Promising to transform drab, concrete walls into colorful displays of public art, Baltimore officials said yesterday that the city will commission 20 murals this summer -- more than double the number painted in past years.
Noting that Baltimore's murals are an important part of the city's culture, Mayor Sheila Dixon said the new displays will complement the added attention some neighborhoods are receiving in the form of crime prevention and development.
"It just adds to the infrastructure and fabric of this great city," said Dixon, who announced the expanded mural program as part of yesterday's annual Citywide Spring Cleanup. "This is a great opportunity to involve all of our residents in expressing themselves."
Thousands of residents took to Baltimore's streets, sidewalks and alleys for the city's ninth annual cleanup event -- the latest in a string of city-sponsored cleanings that have taken on added significance since Dixon has made "cleaner and greener" a rallying cry of her administration.
"Dirt and crime do coincide and it is so important to keep the neighborhood clean," said Fawn Brunson, a 52-year-old city resident who got up early to clean the sidewalks near Pauline Fauntleroy Park in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. "You've got to change the mindset of the people."
In the Waverly neighborhood, several volunteers took a break from raking and filling up hip-high brown paper bags to watch Baltimore artist Gary Mullen begin painting a mural that will be displayed on the Giant supermarket on 33rd Street.
For years, Waverly residents have pushed to have murals painted on the building to give it a stronger connection to the neighborhood. Mullen's painting, a streetscape, will incorporate scenes from the nearby Waverly Market and several historic buildings.
"Hopefully, I can do many more," said Mullen, 42, who also painted the well-known Frederick Douglass mural facing East Chase Street. "I want to paint all my life. It's what I've always wanted to do."
Shawn D. James, a community arts coordinator with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, said the city typically commissions about a half-dozen murals each year. The group works with private donors and neighborhood groups to raise money to pay the artists and cover the cost of supplies.
James said there are about 100 murals in the city.
"There needed to be something to blend the Giant into the community," said Joe Stewart, a city resident who chaired a committee of neighborhood leaders on the issue. "Having murals here, we hope, will help revitalize Old York Road and bring a lot of foot traffic."
City officials said about 4,000 volunteers turned out across the city to take part in the spring cleanup, once called the "Super Spring Sweep Thing." In addition to the cleaning and mural painting, residents raked parks, planted flowers and trees and repainted worn facades. The Afro-American newspaper announced it would resume the Afro Clean Block program, a block-by-block cleaning competition dating to the 1930s.
Earlier this year, the city launched single-stream recycling -- which allows residents to put all recyclable material into one bin -- and has stepped up trash collection efforts.
"I hope that the young people will look and say, 'They're trying to keep the area clean,'" said Melvin Jefferson, a 65-year-old Randallstown resident who was raking in Sandtown-Winchester with his 7-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy Jefferson Hyde. "And maybe they can pass it on to their young people."
Far away from the cameras and public officials, Karen Davis stood alone in an alley behind her home in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood, raking up broken glass and plastic bottles. In front of her, there were bottles and wrappers. Behind her, the alley was spotless.
"We try to keep the alley clean so our kids can play in it," said Davis, 49. "I have to try to keep it clean so they won't get hurt out here."