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Mural to get place in Annapolis

The Baltimore Sun

A painted mural of an African-American man breaking free from bondage, deemed inappropriate for the Anne Arundel County government headquarters by County Executive John R. Leopold, has found a home.

Officials from the nonprofit organization seeking to display the mural said yesterday that it would be hung on a state government building in downtown Annapolis - steps away from the original intended location.

In a meeting yesterday with House Speaker Michael E. Busch and state Sen. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County, ArtWalk officials finalized plans to mount the artwork late next month on the Attman Glazer Building, overlooking the city's historic African-American community.

"Other than the negativity in the beginning, there could not have been a better outcome," said Sally Wern Comport, co-director and curator of ArtWalk. "It has the same visibility that we were hoping for. As we were standing there looking at the site, there were school buses unloading children in that community."

Busch, no stranger to brokering deals, scouted the area and received permission from Gov. Martin O'Malley to mount the work.

The building where the mural will be displayed is near the Arundel Center, where it was originally proposed to hang. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said he had spoken to Leopold, a Republican, and had no quarrel with the county executive's decision.

"There's really no politics involved," Busch said yesterday. "It's just everybody having a dialogue and communication on how we could best resolve it. It's the seat of county government, and I don't necessarily think artwork would be good on the state capitol. Whether it was this artwork or any other artwork, it may not be appropriate to be on the county government building."

Leopold said he was pleased with the outcome. "I appreciate the speaker's support of my administration's position regarding the inappropriateness of placing this piece of artwork on the exterior of the seat of county government," he said. "And I'm pleased the venue has been found. It's the state's decision, and that's their call, and I also remain hopeful, that if not this artwork of these children ... then other artwork from other children will be displayed on the inside of the building."

The mural is part of an effort by ArtWalk to display public art depicting the city's history across six sites in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the city's charter. Pieces have been installed on the Naval Academy seawall, a West Street restaurant, the Annapolis harbormaster's building at City Dock and Severn Savings Bank on Westgate Circle.

The group had received permission from former County Executive Janet S. Owens to display the mural on the exterior wall of the county government's main building. But Leopold refused to display the piece, calling it "inappropriate and too busy."

Leopold also said that doing so would set an unwanted precedent and offered instead to install the work by African-American artist George "Lassie" Belt and 15 local children inside the building.

His action prompted an outcry among local African-Americans and the state conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. County schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell offered to display the mural on the outside of a school or a system administrative building.

Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the system is "thrilled" that the mural will be displayed on such a prominent state building.

Belt, the artist, sounded relieved yesterday. "I'm really excited, especially for the children," he said.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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