Remington neighbors gather for 'Porch Art'

From Beth Barbush's front porch at Huntingdon Avenue and West 30th Street, she has a good view of Remington.

On warm summer nights she sees neighbors chatting, some holding babies, others walking their dogs and kids she knows by name who call her "Miss B." She remembers a different scene upon her arrival to the neighborhood in 2007, when she observed kids "just running up and down the street with no structured activities or much to focus on."

Now, neighbors gather each week in the summer in front of Barbush's house for "Porch Art," a program she runs with help from others on her street and the Greater Remington Improvement Association.

Porch Art "gives [kids] a consistent activity showing them that people in the neighborhood care about them," Barbush, 33, said, as well as a place to socialize.

And although Barbush left for a trip to Japan this past week, kids and neighbors continued to come.

On Tuesday, Jermia Marshall, 11, was painting a clay heart for her "BFF" Brea and counting down the days until her first day at Booker T. Washington Middle School.

Jermia said she lives down the street and that she attends Porch Art every week.

Across from her, Darian Waters, 10, chewed at the end of a freeze pop and painted a picture of a thickly black-outlined "monster." He said he will give the painting to his dad, who, he said, is "locked up"; Jermia said her father is, too.

Darian's sister Ashley sat at the other end of the folding table on the sidewalk and shaded in an anime character with spiky black hair while clutching a pecan sandy in the other hand.

It was the Waters children's first time at Porch Art. They were brought to Barbush's house through a community program offered through the Maryland Institute College of Art, which collaborated with neighbors for this past week's Porch Art session.

In the fading sunlight, Ashley shaded in illustrations to go with the books and poems she writes in her spare time. The eighth-grader said one of the books she's working on is about a boy who realizes he "has all of these powers and he's got to fight the bad guys."

"All these people are getting killed, and this boy tries to save them," she said. "The boy got stabbed, but it really didn't hurt him."

Barbush, who has lived in Baltimore on and off for 12 years, said the activities have helped her get to know the neighborhood youth.

"It also shows them that we are in a sense outside and watching out and over them," she said. "Some of them, when they see me at different times than Porch Art, know that they can come and talk to me about things if they want to. And they do."

Barbush, whose day job is at the Maryland Humanities Council, also runs the Remington Youth Community Radio Project with help from others in the community. That winter activity lets kids do interviews and make audio pieces.

She said that one goal of the improvement association is to create year-round activities for kids whose parents are working, or who aren't involved.

"It is a mixed group in Remington. Some kids have very supportive and present parents and attend Porch Art with them," she said.

The program has grown from around eight kids as a "casual hangout" among families to about 30 people coming each week, Barbush said.

She said many of the projects have used materials such as painted rocks, made musical instruments with rice and beans and created mobiles with found objects. This year, kids painted a huge checker board, made a tic-tac-toe game, and created scarecrows and masks for the Halloween block party on "Hauntingdon."

"It can run on very little funds," she said, "it just takes people's time to make this activity run."

Barbush said one of her neighbors has offered a studio space for a fall art show to feature some of the pieces from Porch Art.

"This is a really diverse neighborhood, but it's things like this that pull everyone together," said Suzanne Schlattman, another neighbor who recently bought a house in the neighborhood with her husband. She said they were drawn to Remington because of the lower costs but also because of the neighborhood feel. She walked over to Barbush's house for Porch Art on Tuesday, where she helped hand out food.

While Barbush has offered the space, she said the whole neighborhood has contributed.

"This is a Remington-unique project. I probably wouldn't have started it if I had not loved my block, my neighborhood and the neighbors as much as I do."

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