After USA Today story, Light City presser becomes pep rally of positivity, innovation

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Mayor Pugh addresses the media and attendees at a press conference announcing the 2018 Light City. Image by Brandon Weigel.

The recent proclamation from USA Today that Baltimore is the most dangerous city in America was still fresh as Mayor Catherine Pugh and the organizers of Light City gathered at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum Tuesday morning to outline this year’s festival.

As happens in today’s content cycle, The Sun and TV networks around town covered the sour headline. And this morning, rather than dodge the subject, organizers addressed it head on.

“But let me just say, that was 2017,” said Mayor Catherine Pugh in her remarks. “We’re in 2018. Homicides in this city, down by 32 percent. I’m sure that’s more than almost any place in the country, so tell that story.”

“Non-fatal shootings down 48 percent, tell that story,” she continued. “And violence is down in every single category, and we know we’re headed in the right direction. And so I’m excited to invite visitors to our city, because we’ve got a lot to show off.”

She pointed to a 24-page feature in Southwest Airlines magazine and a New York Times article calling Baltimore one of “52 Places to Visit” this year.

Indeed, many of the event organizers who spoke said they saw the festival as a chance to show the city off–a not-uncommon theme at events like these featuring civic boosters and the like; that’s their job, after all. But there was a bit more urgency to those remarks in the wake of the bad headline, part of a long line of bad press for Baltimore.

More than that, others saw Light City as an entry point for discussing equitability and urban change.

“This is a unique festival, in that the art is supposed to elucidate and illuminate social issues and concerns that every one of us are dealing with as residents of this city, but as also as citizens of a larger human condition and race,” said Verna Myers, a diversity consultant, “cultural innovator” and member of the Light City Leadership Council. “And so this Light City, it’s not only about the art structures that are supposed to make us question, but my work is to question the status quo, so one of the things that I’m asking you to think about is light not just as only a structure–and art is awesome, because it helps us to see things differently–but I’m talking about art as a metaphor, art as something that shines a vision, a hope, an understanding.”

We should use “our collective lights” to create more possibilities and hope in every aspect of the city, she said.

Jamie McDonald, founder of Generosity Consulting and a chair of [email protected] City, the festival’s TED Talk-like slate of speaking engagements, said Light City is Baltimore’s Art Basel, its Sundance, its South by Southwest–but with a higher calling.

“Now, you don’t become that overnight, and we’re not saying now that the world has recognized that yet, but just wait, they will,” she said. “And the things that you’ve seen happen in those communities around the country because they invested in the innovation that was central to them, that is what we are doing in the innovation that is central to us here, which is the innovations that make cities fair and more just.”

In her wrap-up remarks as master of ceremonies, WJZ-TV anchor Denise Koch said she hoped people were leaving the press conference energized, ready to tell everyone about Light City.

“Take that, USA Today.”

Brandon Weigel

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