xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Coloring books and rap: Baltimore's arts communities respond to Freddie Gray unrest in range of ways

Late last Monday evening, art teacher Siobhan Vicens — unable to sleep after watching TV coverage of the city's tumultuous unrest related to the death of Freddie Gray — sat in her Remington basement studio to sketch out her feelings.

By 4 a.m., Vicens had drawn a rowhome with arms next to the message, "Give This City a Hug."

Advertisement

On Tuesday, as her Southwest Baltimore Charter School students sat home wondering if schools would open the next day, Vicens turned her original collagraph print into a coloring page and switched "this city" with "our city," to make it feel more universal. When she gave printouts of the image to her kindergarten class to color, Vicens noticed her artwork had, in a way, helped students process what had happened.

"Coloring is such a meditative process, and kids really do open up when they're doing it," Vicens, 33, said. "It helped our younger kids engage in a healthy conversation about what they had seen. It was a way for them to be like, 'Yeah, we love our city.'"

Advertisement
Advertisement

As the city deals with the complex, ongoing after-effects of Gray's death, Vicens and other members of Baltimore's eclectic visual arts and music communities are finding their own ways — from protest songs to paper art and more — to express their many emotions.

While national artists such as Beyonce are commenting on the unrest (the singer took to Instagram urging support for the NAACP) and singer Prince recording a song as a "tribute to all people of the city of Baltimore," according to Billboard, Baltimore's musicians are also contributing songs. Rapper Jay Wyse followed a long-standing hip-hop tradition last week when he put a new protest track, "A Song for Freddie Gray," online. (He was not the only one, as Dboi Da Dome also recently released a song with a similar sentiment. The title is unprintable.)

"Only thing he did wrong was not run fast enough / 100 years later and they still after us / When I see flashing lights, it just makes me nervous / 'cuz I'm not trying to be another black man murdered, bang!" the 25-year-old Better Waverly resident raps.

Born Javon Shipley, Wyse said the song, which took two hours to write, is not only for Gray, but "for everybody who has dealt with these situations." He called it "a coping mechanism" for police-related frustrations and trauma his community has experienced over the years.

Advertisement

"Music is therapeutic. Once the marches go away and the protests go away, you still have this song that you can always put on," Wyse said. "Music can be timeless if it's constructed the right way."

A less aggressive but still pointed response also came last week when Baltimore-native singer/songwriter Joy Postell, 22, released the video for her protest song "Hands Up, Don't Shoot." In a description included with the acoustic clip, Postell wrote, "These protests reflect the amount of rage bubbling in black communities, and for me, I believe that music is one of the most powerful forms of dialogue that we have."

Dialogue is essential at a time like this, many argue, and so are benevolent, simple reminders people care for each other. That was the motivation for Annie Howe, a 36-year-old "papercut" artist who last week created a work titled "People are Good." The image — which Howe drew and cut by hand — depicts a large heart with the word "Baltimore" in the middle, surrounded by trees, buildings and cleaning supplies like brooms and hammers.

Howe was inspired by the community cleanup efforts she saw the day after the riots.

"I'm getting a lot of texts and phone calls from people who were concerned outside of the city who don't have a gauge on Baltimore," Howe said. "I just wanted to let people know we're a good city, and the people are good."

On Friday, Howe began selling T-shirts and tank tops featuring the "People are Good" imagine on the website Society6.com. Proceeds of sales will be donated to the human-rights organization United Workers of Baltimore, Howe said. Vicens has received requests for prints and T-shirts of her work, too, and said those plans are in motion. She, too, will donate proceeds to a local organization.

To Vicens, art can help people process their emotions and reflect in ways conversation cannot. She said other teachers at surrounding schools heard about her artwork, and asked for printouts. Vicens gladly obliged, and later learned the teachers had also successfully used the coloring of the image in their classrooms as a catalyst for discussion.

She also called art simply "good for the soul," which explains why Vicens attached welcoming arms to her rowhouse illustration. She knows art will not directly fix the many problems in Baltimore, but it — like a hug — could help.

"A hug is such a natural response in crisis, and the kids can connect to that," she said. "But it doesn't fix everything. We have a lot of work to do."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement