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Group tries to spread kindness in rattled Fells Point

Well-wishing cards and crafts sit on a table inside a Fells Point cafe. They were later handed to strangers or left in public spots as part of a Baltimore group's 'random acts of kindness."
Well-wishing cards and crafts sit on a table inside a Fells Point cafe. They were later handed to strangers or left in public spots as part of a Baltimore group's 'random acts of kindness." (Jeff Barker / Baltimore Sun)

The timing was unintentional. On the weekend that a triple shooting and a violent car crash rattled Fells Point, a band of colorfully dressed activists set out to see if delivering balloons and cheerful aphorisms to strangers could brighten the neighborhood's mood.

As planned before the weekend mayhem, the activists gathered Sunday morning at a Fells Point cafe, where they prepared dozens of positive messages on paper or fabric squares the size of business cards.

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The affirmations included "You are somebody," "You are valuable" and "You are brave."

The group began its guerilla art drop at midday, leaving the cards on benches, in flower boxes and tucked behind cars' windshield wipers. They handed cards to strangers or merchants and delivered balloons to children they encountered.

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"I think that kindness breeds kindness. We get so jaded so quickly and so easily," said Mary England, 27, a local blogger who organized and promoted the effort.

"I make things and leave them out for people to find."

The effort came a day after the triple shooting inside a Fells Point bar early Saturday that left two people critically injured. Police said the shooting began after a dispute inside the bar, and was not linked to another incident that left a woman hospitalized after she was struck by a van that reversed wildly onto a sidewalk.

Signs around Fells Point on Sunday directed passersby to a GoFundMe page established on the woman's behalf.

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England said her project was scheduled before the incidents.

"It wasn't necessarily planned," she said, "but it's well timed."

Julia Barmby, a barista at Cafe Latte Da on Aliceanna Street, said the area was particularly shaken by the violence.

"Fells Point is a very small neighborhood and it's very close-knit," she said.

Barmby said she was cheered when England and fellow activists Betsy Greer and Zoe Cavanaugh arrived at the cafe Sunday morning to organize their goodwill mission.

They are sometimes called "craftivists" because they blend art and activism.

"The first girl came in with a bunch of balloons and I thought, 'I want to go to the party you're going to.' It was quite a surprise," Barmby said.

England wore bright purple tights and had glittery sequins covering her shorts and top.

"Everyone jokes that I get glitter on them," she said.

This was not England's first foray into what is sometimes called "art abandonment."

She has left disposable cameras in public — tied to parking meters, for example — to see what unfolds.

The results include lots of stolen cameras, but also photos of people smiling and kissing, and lots of shots of peoples' dogs.

England said she's done public art projects in neighborhoods around Baltimore. She chose Fells Point on Sunday because "it's a favorite for getting results and interaction."

Sunday's public interactions produced mixed results. That's to be expected, England said, in a world in which people are often wary of encounters with strangers.

Before England left the cafe, a woman approached.

"Thank you for spreading joy," she said.

Once outside, England presented an affirmation card to a street vendor, who accepted it happily. A family initially declined to accept a balloon for their child, but took it after being assured they weren't being sold anything.

But a street musician took one of the cards and dismissively flipped it into the air.

England said she tries not to be offended. The art is intended as a gift to the public, but she said she has no control over it "once it leaves my hand."

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