Beauty in unexpected places

There are a couple of small, predictable joys that occur daily during my workweek — and probably yours. It's likely you haven't noticed them properly before, nor the subtle influence they have on your mood. Fortunately, I have penned this opinion piece to help you understand why, against all odds, you are happy in Baltimore.

The first experience happens on my morning commute around 7:30; it's that initial glimpse of the Howard Street Bridge after emerging from the tunnel. There is something ridiculously uplifting about the sight of the massive, festive, green-and-yellow painted structure. And when I take my little Yaris across, I'm driving through a city still life by an artist with a sense of whimsy and unbridled optimism. If I open my car window and put on my sunglasses, I believe I look exactly like Tom Cruise in that scene in "Jerry Maguire" where he's driving a fancy car and slamming his hand on the steering wheel, singing along to Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." Such is the transportive power of art. Thank you, Howard Street Bridge, you fiesta of steel.


Next, as I drive up Howard Street, I get a glimpse of Graffiti Alley before I turn into the small shopping center where I buy my morning coffee. It's an explosion of color and energy, and it always makes me want to pull over and take an inadequate photo with my smartphone, but I never do. I know it is meant to be seen as a whole — a screaming slash of verve on a curb. I look forward to seeing some new aspect of it every day when I am lucky enough to be positioned properly at the light, which is never quite long enough. Such is the impact of art. Thank you, Graffiti Alley, you ever-changing funhouse mirror of youth.

Sometimes I travel North on Charles Street and I spot the Charles Village Mural on the side of the rowhouses that border the Safeway parking lot. It's always spring on the Charles Village Mural, and I'm grateful for the affirming image of growth and life that sticks in my mind. There are no people in the mural, just houses and sky and trees, and it's sort of relaxing that way. There are always plenty of real people below it — and they become part of the art, the way dancers perform against a backdrop. Such is the embrace of art. Thank you, Charles Village Mural, for making me notice the loveliness of the ordinary.

On my way to my hot yoga studio after work in Hampden, I know to turn into the parking lot when I see the Baltimore LOVE project mural, huge and high and starkly engaging in black on the gray building facade above my studio's entrance. This brings to mind a lot of stuff I absolutely love, like steamed lobster and haikus written by grade school students and, at the moment, even hot yoga. Such is the illusion of art. Thank you, Baltimore LOVE project, for bringing the word love to mind at unexpected times.

And then, always on my way home on Route 40, there's a place I think of as the "Hope House." It's a rowhouse like many row houses — arguably exactly like the one next to it in almost all respects. But the difference is, someone painstakingly painted it red and white, all over, in patterns and stripes. It's a visual exclamation point as I drive by, and no matter what kind of day I have had, it never fails to fill me with hope. I trust it does the same for its occupants. Thank you, Hope House, for the reminder to stay positive.

Such is the transformative power of art in our lives. It alters our collective frames of mind. It lifts us up. It makes us think original thoughts.

Art: Making life worth living since the cave drawing days.

Janet Gilbert works in Baltimore and lives in Woodstock. Visit her at