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Flower box project adds some beauty, artist employment to downtown Towson

Artist Camila Leão paints a flower box on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Artist Camila Leão paints a flower box on Pennsylvania Avenue. (David Riley)

Downtown Towson is getting decidedly more colorful this summer.

In an effort to beautify the community, the Towson Chamber of Commerce and the Towson Creative Partnership joined together to select local artists to paint flower boxes around the downtown.

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On July 26, the six artists selected began painting their designs on 13 flower boxes around town, which should be completed sometime next month.

Supported by the Baltimore County government, funding came through a $50,000 Community Legacy Grant from the state of Maryland. Of that amount, $35,000 will go toward a mural outside the Towson branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, a project that will begin next month and should be completed in November, while the remaining $15,000 will go toward painting Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) boxes, wall murals and the flower box project.

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Deirdre Aikin, owner of Triple Crown Tattoos Studio and Art Gallery, came up with the idea for the flower box project after noticing that a few of the boxes had been vandalized with graffiti, gum and trash and some of the flowers had been pulled out and thrown onto the sidewalk.

She thought if she could find a way to turn the boxes into art, then people might leave them alone.

“Neighborhood beautification makes a difference in how people operate in the area,” she said. “[I wanted] to fix things that might have been an eyesore.”

The artists, known as “The Flower Box Women,” were selected after an open call for artists through the chamber and the Towson Creative Partnership. It was part of an effort to bring public art to the community and provide creative and economic opportunities for young artists.

Although the project started as a showcase for local talent, it later became a way to help businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“When public art comes into an area it makes it a better living environment and attracts more business and more growth,” Aikin said. “We need our businesses to come out of COVID and feel good, and I’m hoping that is what the art boxes will do.”

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the chamber, said the pandemic took a heavy toll on the chamber. Many events that generate most of the organization’s revenue had to be canceled.

Despite the financial hardships, the chamber has been able to raise private funding that will go toward various public art projects around Towson, she said.

“We are still committed and are grateful because we got a generous donation to help us with the planting of the flowers in the boxes and the grant is giving us funding,” Hafford said.

Besides the grant, donations from businesses in the community have compensated the artists for their designs.

The artists are paid $300 for each box painted, Hafford said.

David Riley, chairman of the Towson Creative Partnership, said he hopes the project will add to the downtown experience.

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“I think it would be nice if someone said, ‘Let’s go downtown and look at the different boxes,’ stop at one of our eateries and have lunch or go to the farmers market and buy something,” he said.

In addition to helping local businesses, he said he hopes the project supports young artists in the community.

“This has really worked out well because the creative community has been hit by the pandemic,” he said. “This has allowed us to hire a small group of artists, showcase their work and give them additional business.”

The project is featuring the designs of six women — Di’Aman Fisher, Theresa Foggo, Oliver James, Camila Leão, Queenadeola Royalty and Miranda Wood.

James, who used to live in Towson, painted her first public art piece, the “Butterfly Mural,” in Knollwood last year and has since gone on to be one of 16 muralists invited to participate in the Banneker-Douglass Museum’s Black Vote Mural Project.

Most recently, she served as one of the leading artists on the Breonna Taylor Ground Mural Project, a 7,000-square-foot mural of Taylor — a 26-year-old emergency room technician who was shot in her home in March by Louisville, Kentucky police — on a basketball court at Chambers Park in Annapolis.

As an artist whose public art career started in Towson, she said it means a lot to her to have the support of the community.

“Towson was and still is a starting point for me, and I can honestly say since doing my first mural here a little over a year ago, I have seen huge growth in my career,” she said. “I know many artists can’t say that and I know a lot of my success has to do with David Riley, Deirdre Aikin and the Towson community.”

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