Learning Inc. didn't need spotlights or brass bands to let people know they were coming to an exceptional grand opening. The sunny smiles on faces of some of the school's "guides" - at-risk Baltimore City teenagers attending the school - were better than any highfalutin' folderol could have been, when it came to showing off the organization's brand new Hampden home.
"I've been [showing] everybody around, letting them see how the next school year is going to be looking like. ... It looks beautiful," said 18-year-old Tanequa Harris with a big smile. Then, the second-year Learning Inc. student was off and running, giving more guests a tour of the new school.
The smiles didn't stop with the students. Party co-chairs Suzi Cordish and Ira Miller were all grins.
"This is the kickoff of taking Learning Inc. to the next stage of its growth. We have a much larger capacity to educate and help the children," said Miller.
"Tonight is the culmination of, really, a dream. ... One year ago, it was a big hole in the ground. [Now] we can take double the number of students that we did before, and it's wonderful," raved Learning, Inc. executive director Judy Friedman.
Maryland School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick was awestruck.
"What an exciting night," she said. "To see the number of people who really are about students who are struggling. These people are saving lives."
A Drink with Michael William Kirby
Native Baltimorean Michael William Kirby, 32, is a painter, mosaic artist and sculptor. But he's made an international name for himself as a muralist. Starting today, Kirby will be working all week on a street mural at the corner of Exeter and Aliceanna Streets to be featured in this Saturday's "3rd Annual Harbor East Fine Arts & Music Festival." Kirby lives in Fells Point.
When people find out you're a muralist, what's the question you hear most often?
What's the biggest one you've ever done? ... I did it in Virginia last year. It's about Pocahontas ... and it was actually located where she's from. ... It was 20 feet high and 150 feet wide. But now, I'm a finalist to do the Eastern Avenue underpass in Highlandtown, and that's 700 feet long. I just got here from Washington, where I'm a finalist at Dulles, and that's a pretty big one, too.
How long does it take you to paint a mural?
It really depends on what you consider a mural. I mean, I can paint this wall [outside John Stevens] in a day with flowers. Normally people contract with me to do a work that's a minimum of three months, to a year or longer.
Do you ever just paint for fun?
Yeah. I like to paint big. I do paint regular paintings that you hang on a wall, canvases. But, I really get enjoyment out of working in a situation where you have to adapt to an environment. Art, for me, is about reinventing myself, challenging myself.