Reframing Baltimore after Freddie Gray

Among us, one is new to Baltimore, one a 25 year transplant and one a native. We are all head-over-heels in love with the city. We shared the heartbreak of watching our city in crisis last week. But even in those dark moments, we believed in the fundamental resilience and strengths of Baltimore. We embrace the complexity of this city, know its great as well as broken parts, and remain excited about its tremendous potential.

The city we know and love was not visible in the prevailing narrative about the Baltimore uprising so dominant on national and international media. One would think that this is a city afraid of itself. The images of an unsafe, out-of-control city were everywhere.


Missing were the images of citizens and college students coming out the morning after Monday's violence for volunteer clean up efforts. Missing were the portraits of neighbors checking in with each other and offering comfort and support. Missing were the reports of artist activists feeding school children, capturing the faces of protestors, amplifying the city's voice, and those of community leaders facilitating dialogues of change. There is such an outpouring of positive energy in Baltimore that is invisible to the world.

This is a time for Baltimoreans to stand together. The charges against six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray shows that our state and city can provide accountability and be a leader for the nation. There is no better time to build trust, mend wounds and go deep to reflect so that we can move forward decisively for change and sustaining justice.

Yes, the city needs healing. As critically, the perception of and dialogue about the city need reframing.

Let us reframe the perception of Baltimore. While it would be unconscionable to ignore the historical causes and ongoing pain underpinning the unrest last week and peaceful protests since then, the Baltimore community must find a way to celebrate and broadcast our togetherness and the richly complex facets of our reality. Ours is not a city to fear or pity. To the contrary, ours is a city that has enjoyed genuine renaissance in recent years, and among its greatest assets are the authenticity and spirit of its people.

Let us reframe the dialogue of last week's unrest and reshape our collective commitment to help Baltimore be its best. The violence, predominantly and simplistically portrayed in the media as lawlessness, is the manifestation of long-standing social inequity. For our city to be strong, we must invest in both the thriving communities that are attracting upwardly mobile millennials and forsaken communities that have been plagued by a vicious cycle of poverty, drugs, and disenfranchisement. Last Monday proved that we have not learned the lessons of the 1968 uprising. The moment is ripe to redefine our own understanding of the city, as well as that of the nation and the world.

As leaders in arts and culture, we realize that another true asset of Baltimore is our exceptional cultural scene, populated with artists and cultural organizations of great diversity and genuine community spirit. Cultural action, artistic intervention and design thinking can be unique vehicles to unite citizens, showcase the multiple dimensions of Baltimore, generate honest discourse for new solutions, and create a compellingly visible counter balance to the negative image that has been imposed upon Baltimore.

Obviously, arts and culture cannot single-handedly reposition Baltimore or solve its critical issues. We, our organizations, and our peers can, however, bring our unique skills, mindset and resources with humility and unity to the table for Baltimore. Many artists and fellow leaders of arts and culture organizations, large and small, are engaging in diverse and community responsive efforts that reflect our own incredible variety. We know that other sectors and individuals are examining what specific roles they can play and what valuable assets they can offer in reframing Baltimore. We look forward to being in dialogue and coordinated action.

Many constructive initiatives are being undertaken across the city to deal with the aftermath of last week. More are needed and a more profound commitment is required to sustain a citywide discourse and permanent change for the better. All of us stand to reimagine ourselves and our actions within the reframed context of Baltimore. Let's show the world the Baltimore we know and love, and our capacity to come together in moving the city forward.

For us, together means strength. Together means reaching deep within ourselves to reflect and joining others in action for change and justice. Together means diverse voices in dialogue. Together means facing the long-term challenge of creating equity for all. Together does not mean status quo after the storm has passed. Together means reframing Baltimore's best course forward.

What does together mean for you?

Samuel Hoi is president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Jeannie Howe is executive director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, and A. Skipp Sanders is executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.