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First Glimpses of Baltimore: Open City Online

January 13, 2011

Social Stoops (from

Since mid-December the Baltimore: Open City site has delivered a steady stream of thoughtful ideas and discussion about urban development, planning, and renewal–particularly as they pertain to Baltimore. The site is the outgrowth of the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Exhibition Development Seminar (EDS), in preparation for the interactive exhibition Baltimore: Open City slated to open April 1 at 16 W. North Ave., the site of the former North Avenue Market.

Working with visiting artist Damon Rich, the founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, the EDS class aims to envision Baltimore as an “open city”–which the 28 students in the class define as “a place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of such things as wealth, race or religion.” The 2010-’11 EDS project is being led by MICA assistant professor in art history, theory, and criticism Daniel D’Oca, along with Historian-in-Residence Antero Pietila, the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute, forward-thinking design hybrids D:center and Dale Glenwood Green of Green & Tice, Thomas L. Hollowak of the University of Baltimore’s Langsdale Library, and the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Africana Studies’ East Baltimore Oral History Project.

EDS’ Baltimore: Open City project arrives in a fortuitous year. Two other organizations have already very publicly addressed ways to improve the city–Amplify Baltimore and CreateBaltimore–and opens about a year after the City From Below, which brought a variety of national urban thinkers here. It’s all part of a growing grassroots civic (re)imagining that has always percolated through the city’s arts workers and community organizations, but has steadily gained momentum over the past decade as they’ve come into contact with one another and created dynamic pockets of activity that exist at the intersection of visual art practice, local activism, and grassroots organization. These projects aspire to directly confront persistent urban issues: population displacement as a result of development, neighborhoods and housing structures oftentimes erected decades before ecological concerns entered the discourse, economically depressed populations, and  the social stressors that support underground shadow economies and the so-called “culture of violence” that has become the blanket term for urban ills.

The Baltimore: Open City site has already aggregated some enticing content, such as teasing some potential projects, including “Social Stoops” (pictured above), which proposes reclaiming material from Baltimore’s marble graveyard to recreate the iconic sitting place of the Baltimore rowhouse in our public parks.

How hopeful ideas, organizational energy, and genuine idealism are turned into pragmatic action can be a conundrum when dealing with the intersection of art and activism, but go ahead and expect something different from EDS. Its process has produced some innovative exhibitions over the past decade, from At Freedom’s Door: Challenging Slavery in Maryland to Follies, Predicaments, and Other Conundrums: The Works of Laure Drogoul.

You can follow the exhibition on Twitter and Facebook.

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