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UPDATE: Open Walls Baltimore 2 met with protest citing lack of diversity, Gaia responds

March 25, 2014

sausagefest04UPDATE: Gaia, the Baltimore street artist who curated Open Walls Baltimore 2, issued a response, which you can read at the bottom of this post.

Last night, Luminous Intervention protested the launch party for Open Walls Baltimore 2 with an event called “Open Walls = Sausage Party,” projecting images on the side of Metro Gallery that criticized the mural project’s lack of diversity (of 14 murals planned for the second installment of Open Walls, only one features a female artist). One projection read “HOW MANY SAUSAGES DOES IT TAKE TO PAINT A MURAL?” and another that featured Mickey Mouse berating a sausage (pictured). Check out a gallery of the protest here.

We asked Olivia Robinson, one of the organizers of the protest, to expand on her reasons for putting it together, which you can read below. Below that is the text of a Facebook post from Metro Gallery owner Sarah Werner, who wanted to clarify that the projections were protesting the show, not the gallery itself. Werner’s words are reposted with her permission.

City Paper reached out to Gaia, the curator of the project, and did not receive an immediate response. We’ll update the post if we receive anything.

Olivia Robinson:

On Monday evening, Open Walls Baltimore 2 had its kick-off party at the Metro Gallery in Station North. Open Walls, now in its second season of commissioning large-scale outdoor murals, has selected artists for 14 new works. I was saddened to discover that only one of the 14 new murals will be created by women. These murals will be major transformations to our urban landscape; they will last for many decades, and they will garner many professional opportunities to the artists who create them. And 92 percent of those artists will be men. This kind of under-representation of women and trans* individuals would have been outrageous 40 years ago – it is still outrageous today.

I am part of an ongoing art project called Luminous Intervention. We produce outdoor video projections to create conversation around issues of social and economic disparity and to propose models for change. On Monday night, we created a video projection to protest the under-representation of women and trans* artists in the Open Walls murals. Our video used humor and flashy animations to drive home our central point: that this new round of Open Walls murals is very much a SAUSAGE PARTY.

The Open Walls project is about more than just the murals. There are also performances and lectures that will be part of the overall programming. Those performances and lectures will feature more women and trans* artists. Open Walls is also part of a larger organization called the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Inc. SNAED has worked hard to promote diversity in many of their other programs as well. So why are we singling out the issue of the Open Walls murals for our scrutiny? Why attack this one part of the overall activities?

We think this issue is important for a number of reasons.

1. The centerpiece of the Open Walls program are the murals. They are the jewel in the crown of arts programming in Station North.

2. The murals are dominating in terms of their size and impact. Gallery exhibitions, film screenings, and performances at most will last for a couple of months. The murals will be with us for decades.

3. The murals will receive more international attention than any of the other programming in Station North.

4. The ideas, perspectives, visual language, and voices of the muralists will affect people for decades through the artwork they create. These murals may well outlive you, me, or SNAED.

Our video projection was very well received by many of the visitors at the OWB2 opening party. Many people, including some of the muralists, came across the street to watch our video projection, and to discuss the issues it addressed. One comment that I received several times that evening was, “I didn’t even think about it until I watched your video… but you’re right – it is a sausage party!”

Of course we’re right! 92 percent! That’s a lot of sausage. And it speaks to a much larger problem in the arts that most people don’t notice this kind of male domination unless it is pointed out for them. Over-representation of men in the arts is so pervasive that is not even seen. It is normalized.

For hundreds of years this has been the case. Women and trans* artists have been overlooked, under-represented, and underpaid. Even today, this remains a major problem. The 2014 Whitney Biennial will be opening in a couple months in New York City [It actually opened March 7-ed.]. It will feature a roster of artists that is 70 percent male. This is pathetic.

On Monday night I also spoke with the OWB2 curator, Gaia, and the SNAED director, Ben Stone. Having had a thoughtful conversation with both of them, I honestly believe that they have the best intentions, and that they do respect diversity. They need to work to correct this situation. The OWB murals are a big deal. Over-representation of male artists is a big deal.

Baltimore is a small enough city that individuals can have an impact, and a big enough city that it matters to the rest of the nation. It would be easy for us to get this right. Let’s get it right.

The video projection can be seen in full here:

Metro Gallery owner Sarah Werner:

As expected, I awoke to a good deal of messages from folks regarding the projections by the group Luminous Intervention on the Metro Gallery building last night. Luminous Intervention was protesting the Open Walls event that was being held at Metro Gallery last evening, citing not enough of female and trans artists were involved in the project. While I am not in agreement with their views on Open Walls and personally think the Open Walls project is amazing for the entire community, I do respect everyone’s right for free speech, especially in the arts. Unfortunately, the projections gave the impression to some passersby that they were protesting the gallery.

Metro Gallery is a female owned and operated business that employs both men and women and additionally has been a strong ally to the GLBTQ community. I hired each and every person that works for Metro because they are amazing, and they have made the Metro Gallery so much better than I could have ever imagined. I did not hire them because of their gender but because of their work ethics, skills, and dedication to the Baltimore arts and music community. As a female business owner, I have dealt with sexism over the years – so having this projected on my building was nothing short of ironic and unfortunately misplaced. I wish both Luminous Intervention and Open Walls the best but I felt the need to clarify.

A response from Gaia:

I am appreciative of Luminous Intervention’s critique of the Open Walls Baltimore 2 roster this year and that it was presented in a respectful and humorous light that speaks to my curatorial oversight. As curator, I take full responsibility for the lack of female artists participating in the two month program, and am working to remediate the issue. Negotiations with additional artists, including muralists, performers, and installation artists, are ongoing, and I hope to be able to announce additional participation by women soon. There is no other response that I feel is appropriate other than acknowledging the disparity. When organizing this year’s iteration of the project, I strove to include a wider range of local artists whose work was translatable to the mural format, a continued presence of exciting international artists to bring to this incredible city, and to develop a lineup that distinguished our program from the copy and paste methods of other international street art festivals throughout the world. Yet addressing the gender dynamic of the street art world beyond Baltimore was not adequately taken to task amidst all of the other curatorial concerns, and once again that is no one’s fault but my own.

Point being is that in the grand scheme of things our roster is very diverse, provides our local artists with an amazing platform, and we are back to do something incredible for this city.

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  • Kate

    How frustrating that people thought it was protesting Metro Gallery! That is a wonderful place–thanks for all you do and all the diverse events y’all host. And OWB can be a wonderful project that *also* has limitations, in this case in terms of the gender diversity of the people hired to paint the 14 murals that make up the most visible part of the project. I’m happy to hear OWB took the Luminous Intervention seriously.

  • station north artist 7 years

    I too am glad that Station North got some feedback about what they are doing with their choices. Monies should be going to Station North Artists and that means women too…hello!! I wonder sometimes where Ben Stone really is and what he really wants

  • Kate

    Thanks for the comment, Gaia, and I’m sure we all look forward to the increased gender diversity as you finalize the slate of artists. Gender is very much a part of the “grand scheme of things,” and I’m sure there are women making art that is translatable to this format.

  • Billy Mitchell

    Most of the artist are from out of state or country. Talented Baltimore artists desperately need work. I think its unfair to not have proposals for murals from local artist.

  • Lady

    It is so refreshing to see a curator respond to an issue brought to light in a gracious and humble manner. Way to go Gaia for accepting criticism and doing something about it!

  • Jet

    Once again native Americans have been completely ignored. Sad/typical.

  • James Hunt

    Sausage Party > Clam Bake

  • RMC

    I love the way Gaia responded. Most would’ve made excuses or become defensive. The oversight was acknowledged and actions are being taken. We can learn a lot from the way this was handled. I know this is about gender, but I wonder about racial and cultural diversity. Baltimore is a very culturally diverse place. I hope that is represented as well. So much to think about when creating and curating community art.