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City youth group paints mural that offers vision of hope

The simple message of Mayor Martin O'Malley's "Believe" campaign has taken many forms since its inception in April 2002, from billboards to bumper stickers to television commercials to huge banners draped across downtown office buildings.

But the latest incarnation - and greatest, in terms of sheer size - a 25-by-75-foot mural at the corner of Clay and Liberty streets downtown, isn't actually part of the campaign.

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Fifteen kids from Baltimore, with some help from their mentor, artist Tony Shore, the Junior League and the Police Foundation, conceptualized and created the work in an attempt to share their hopes and dreams for Baltimore with others.

Although not sponsored by the Believe campaign, the mural was certainly inspired by it; it prominently displays the single-word slogan across its top, proving that it's not the mayor alone who believes that Baltimoreans can right their city's wrongs.

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"You know, it's a very strong message we're trying to put out. I hope they'll just see ... how things can be," said one of the young artists, Taryn Berger, 17.

The mural depicts six rowhouses and is broken up into three different scenes, each showing residents in different stages of community involvement.

The first scene, entitled "Believers," shows residents who are active and cleaning up their community. The second scene, "Future Believers," shows people sitting in front of their buildings, not doing much of anything. The third scene, featuring a boarded-up building with broken windows, is captioned, "Reason to Believe."

It seems like the mayor couldn't find better spokespeople for the Believe effort than the youngsters who created the mural.

"I think the mural is about telling the truth and keeping it real," said Ronald Christian, a 15-year-old from Pigtown. "I hope [people] like it, they enjoy it, they'll think more about it and they'll see that they can change their community," he said.

The police foundation initiated the project after receiving an anti-graffiti grant from the Annie Casey Foundation. The organization had worked with Shore in the past - he painted a mural for the Southwest Police District station, where he once had been busted for writing graffiti as a teen - and looked to him and his community youth art organization, Access Art, to head the project.

"We just said, 'Come up with a theme that takes the kids through a process that really involves them in what they think of their neighborhoods,'" said Kim Lane, community programs project director for the Baltimore Police Department. "We provided little guidance - and this is what they created."

And created in only 10 days. Although it took the kids 12 weeks to kick around ideas, settle on one and create a template, the actual painting took place in a week and a half.

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"To get it done by the deadline in just 10 days is amazing," said Shawn James, Access Art's resident artist. "A lot of people didn't think it could be done, especially with the kids, ... but it came out remarkably well."

The mural will be officially unveiled today at 12:30 p.m. at 210 Liberty St. The mayor, as well as representatives of the Police Department and Junior League, are scheduled to appear in addition to Shore and his young artists, who are already giddy with excitement over their newfound celebrity.

Shore seems just as delighted. "It's great just knowing that this many people are going to see the kids' artwork. It's pretty exciting," he said.

But, he quipped, "I'm kind of curious to see how the mayor will feel about us putting two more boarded-up houses in Baltimore."


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