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Leopold firm: no art on Arundel building

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold didn't budge during a discussion yesterday with members of a nonprofit group over his earlier refusal to allow a mural depicting a black man breaking free from bondage to be displayed on the exterior of the county government headquarters in Annapolis.

In an interview after the meeting with ArtWalk, Leopold - who had called the artwork "busy and inappropriate" and said that allowing it on the exterior of a county building would set an unwanted precedent - said he reiterated his invitation for the work by artist George "Lassie" Belt and about 15 local children to be displayed inside the building.

Officials from ArtWalk, which commissioned artwork to be temporarily mounted on publicly accessible sites across Annapolis to mark the 300th anniversary of the city's charter, said they are excited about displaying the work inside but are searching for a new outside venue. The building was chosen because of its proximity to one of Annapolis' historically black neighborhoods.

"We feel very disappointed," said Sally Wern Comport, co-director and curator of ArtWalk. "But we were aware that this outcome wasn't going to change. In fact, we were wondering why, on some level, we were even having the meeting."

Wern said she hoped the new site "can have the same impact on the community that this site would have. We're going to look for a dynamite site."

Leopold, who came under fire from the state chapter of the NAACP and other civil rights activists for his stance, said he looked forward to hosting an unveiling when the artwork goes on display and discussing it on the county's public access show, Week in Review. He added that ArtWalk officials at the meeting had agreed to establish a committee to encourage the arts among young people.

"It was a very positive outcome," Leopold said.

Belt, who commissioned the work, said yesterday: "It's sort of like a bittersweet moment. We're still going to have the artwork displayed, but not on the outside. We didn't come to beg them to put it on the building, but we told them that we'll just take our art and put it on another building, and we'll bless that building."

Noticeably absent from the meeting was County Councilman Daryl Jones, an African-American who was the first to float the idea of mediating a meeting between Leopold and ArtWalk.

"I think initially the thought was for me to be there, but I think the administration felt they could handle the conversation themselves," Jones said. "I had offered my assistance to mediate the issue, and continue to offer my assistance to help in any way to resolve it."

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