It happens often, but sometimes it seems not to happen often enough: a passing comment leads to positive action, then that simple step grows into something bigger. Since last April in Baltimore, residents of all economic and social backgrounds have stepped up to see what they can do in our city to create opportunities for lasting change.
Many effective nonprofits — larger ones like Catholic Charities, Open Society Institute, Baltimore Community Foundation, The Associated, Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust and smaller ones like Parks & People, Paul's Place, and Safe and Sound Campaign — have been working on this for decades. New nonprofits and partnerships have emerged.
Outreach efforts in their infancy have also ramped up, such as one that started two years ago. A few months before the new program began, a volunteer at Waverly Elementary/Middle School, Anne Stick, went to a parent-teacher organization meeting there. She heard a group of students speak up at the meeting. They asked passionately for art classes and were told that they could have these classes only if volunteers would provide the time, instruction and supplies. Anne went back to her church, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, and with the justice and outreach team on which she serves organized an after-school art program at Waverly.
She then reached out to Baltimore artists she knew — my husband Greg Otto, Sam Christian Holmes, Kylis Winborne, Ursula Minervini — and asked them to come to the school to show and talk about their art and participate with students for afternoon sessions in papier-mâché, printmaking, sculpture and painting. Twenty-some children participated that year. About a dozen volunteers from the Cathedral of the Incarnation and St. David's Church in Roland Park joined in. At the end of the year, students staged an art exhibition at the Cathedral complete with artist statements, an opening and card reproductions of their work. Proceeds from the exhibit went toward the Cathedral funding for a second year.
The program expanded to a second, and now a third, year to include dozens of Baltimore artists working in all media and dozens of students. This year, it mushroomed to 40-some children, plus a smaller class of hearing-impaired students participating every Tuesday afternoon. The middle schoolers seem inspired by the program. "I want to be an artist because art is my talent," says one. "It is what I am good at. I have been doing art since I was little all the way until now; it is so good for me. If I keep on practicing I can get good at it. Art is in my blood."
This winter, in the undercroft of the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Martin Luther King Junior Day, 57 students came for a community day of art and fun. Women from My Sister's Circle joined Waverly students. The program was led by Anne Stick and by the Rev. Charlie Barton from St. James Academy in Monkton. More than 50 volunteers came from the Cathedral of the Incarnation, Johns Hopkins University, the Churches of Charles, St. David's Church, My Sister's Circle and Waverly Elementary/Middle School.
"I have always wanted to see children work one on one with volunteers, and we achieved that ratio on Martin Luther King Jr. Day," says Anne Stick. "It was a peaceful, creative atmosphere in which the children knew they were loved. They were able to articulate their thoughts about their dreams for themselves and work towards an image of that vision in a concrete way."
Children were given molded Styrofoam heads and encouraged to express their dreams. Using an array of art materials — glitter, fluorescent pipe cleaners, metallic and colorful paints, ribbons and plastic jewels — creations ranged from pleas for justice and equality, to dreams of being articulate speakers and singers; beautiful, stylish and wealthy women; football stars; actors; environmentalists, and college graduates.
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King's famous words, "I have a dream," played out on many levels that day and continue to resonate each week in this simple art program. My visit to the Cathedral of the Incarnation substantiated my belief that constructive and caring interaction can happen every day in our city.