SoWeBo refines its palette

The Baltimore Sun

Freedom David Colbert is prepared to die young, but not because he thinks he'll become a crime statistic in Baltimore.

He says he's prepared to accept such a fate because it's the same one that has befallen so many young artists. A decade ago, he left the Baltimore School for the Arts, disillusioned with what he felt were the strictures of techniques being taught. Now that the 29-year-old is painting again, at a prolific pace, he says he understands the artistic destiny.

"I would give my life for my art. That's what it means to me. It's my lifeline," said Colbert, who would only describe the style of his portraiture, landscapes and abstract work in oils and acrylics as "mine."

That's the kinds of die-hard artistic fortitude that organizers wanted to tap with yesterday's SoWeBo Arts and Music Festival, where Colbert sold prints. The annual event has been held for more than two decades in a neighborhood that residents say has undergone resurgence in recent years.

Organizers said they have been striving to bring in more artists to sell their wares as opposed to vendors that one volunteer said belonged in a flea market, and also to diversify the music that this year included acoustic rock and Celtic tunes.

The neighborhood, dubbed SoWeBo for "Southwest Baltimore," is about a mile from the downtown financial district. The area boasts a nonprofit community arts organization that tries to mine the talents of neighborhood artists and musicians; the group organizes the festival also known by the name of SoWeBohemian. This year it was held in the area around Hollins Market.

A salon-style art exhibit anchored several blocks of street vendors. It was a non-juried show, which in arts-and-crafts lingo typically means that anyone can show without first having to put together a resume and portfolio to secure a spot. Essentially, the only barrier to entry at the SoWeBo show was that artists could submit just two pieces, or one if it was longer than 4 feet.

"It just has to fit in the room," said Brenda Morris, a 35-year-old bookbinder and artist in mixed media and sculpture.

Yesterday, Morris showed two pieces she had designed for a now-defunct restaurant. One piece, called "spring salad," was a bowl with metal springs jumping in all directions. A fork and wire cutter were glued to the place mat. When asked why she works on her art, she said, "Because I have to."

Then, figuring that was the standard artist answer, she rethought her reasoning. "I like art because I like to see people smile. That's the payoff for me," she said. "I don't make much money from this."

Used books, jewelry, plants, tie-dye shirts and knitted finger puppets were on sale yesterday. There were puppet shows and street performers doing magic tricks and sculpting balloons. Food vendors hawked funnel cakes and pizza.

The artists were just as varied.

Myke Lyne, 28, sold graffiti on canvas next to some colleagues who used the same kind of urban style and bright colors and applied it to skateboards. Lyne, of Prince George's County, said he used to tag when he was younger for the adrenaline rush but realized - after he got older and less willing to take the chance of arrest - that he really loved the art form that he says too many people denigrate.

A few stalls down, Michele Banks sold watercolors of repeated images, such as coffee cups and color splashes that many people think are flowers but that she said could just as well be sea anemones. While the 42-year-old Washington resident says she feels "too old, fat and nontattooed" for the SoWeBo scene, the event draws her back every year. She said she doesn't have a political agenda like some artists; she's more interested in color relationships.

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