In a bid to address Baltimore's chronic ills through the arts, Johns Hopkins University announced Monday it is starting a youth film-making program so urban teens and young adults can portray their community while gaining skills and experience that could land them jobs.
With a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the university said it plans to offer documentary film and photography workshops beginning next spring in collaboration with faculty and experts at other Baltimore schools and nonprofit organizations.
"Our city suffers from so many different solitudes that do not connect to one another," Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said in a statement. "We believe that by giving cameras and skills to our kids, we create an avenue for empowerment and a foundation these young people can use to help unify our city."
The effort aims to enlist participants between the ages of 16 and 29, including ex-offenders. Workshops and courses will be taught by faculty from Hopkins and the Peabody Institute, Morgan State University and the Maryland Institute, College of Art, as well as by Baltimore film-makers and artists. Other partners include Baltimore city public schools and some community arts programs.
"We really look forward to collaborating with anyone who's interested," said Lucy Bucknell, a senior lecturer in film and media studies at Hopkins and the lead organizer of the initiative. She said she hoped to draw broad-based support for what she called "ajoint project to collect and tell stories, to experimenton film,to builda hopefully unruly archive of their time andcity."
One of the venture's partners — Keith Mehlinger, associate professor and coordinator of Morgan State's screen-writing and animation program — credited Hopkins with "thinking outside the box" in trying to address long-standing social problems highlighted by the riots that followed Freddie Gray's death in police custody.
"Stories can be an important part of healing, an important part of catharsis that communities go through following the kind of events we're experiencing in Baltimore," Mehlinger said. He said he hoped his program could help students learn the importance of "research and discipline when it comes to something like storytelling."
With the Mellon funding to be spread over three years, Hopkins hopes to engage 75 to 100 students a year, said Linda DeLibero, director of the university's film and media studies program.
"It's obviously not going to be an enormous program, but we want to have some kind of impact," DeLibero said.
Classes will be offered after school, in the evening and on weekends and in various neighborhoods. Students will be taught film and photography skills while also picking up work experience, as they'll earn a stipend during the workshops. DeLibero said organizers are intentionally casting a broad net for students, not looking only for the most gifted.
"We really want students who may not have even considered making movies," she said, "or that this kind of work is possible."
Hopkins joins an urban film-making scene that's been cultivated for years by a growing number of organizations. Wide Angle Youth Media, for example, engages about 400 young people a year in graphic design and media production workshops offered at middle and high schools and in other venues, according to executive director Susan Malone. The nonprofit group in its 15th year, she noted. While her group is not one officially partnering with Hopkins, Malone said she nonetheless welcomed it.
"We're just really excited that universities are seeing the value in this type of education," she said.