- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Colorful two- and three-story murals complete the landscape in more than 100 locations around Baltimore, adding color, vibrancy and a sense of community.

This year, the Baltimore Mural Program, which has been beautifying the city for more than 30 years, is teaming with the office of Mayor Sheila Dixon for CityPaint 2008, a push to get more than 20 murals painted or restored on row-house walls and other surfaces - about five times the number of murals painted in a typical year.

“The mural program is a wonderful way to transform blighted communities and vacant lots,” said Hope Williams, coordinator with the Mayor’s Initiative for Cleaner Greener Baltimore, which also is involved in this year’s goal of more murals.

Ms. Williams was among the city officials and community volunteers who turned out Saturday to dedicate the city’s newest artwork, at 11 W. Hamburg St. in the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood. Baltimore artist Charles Lawrance’s mural depicts members of the community planting trees and other greenery among the row houses.

At the dedication, many of the real-life residents worked together to plant rows of shrubs in front of the mural.

“This is a good example of people taking pride in where they live,” Ms. Williams said as volunteers worked a bucket brigade to get soil in the beds.

Mr. Lawrance has completed about a dozen murals around town over the past few years. The Sharp-Leadenhall mural took about 2 1/2 weeks to finish because of a number of rain delays. His favorite mural is the giant sea turtle he painted at Belair Road and Erdman Avenue.

“It is a great from of expression,” Mr. Lawrence says.

Shawn James is community arts coordinator for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which oversees the mural program. He says the program helps raise property values and cut down on graffiti. It also helps employ local artists. A typical commission for a mural is about $10,000, he says. Money for the projects comes from a mixture of grants, budget allocations and public and private donations.

About 200 mostly local artists are in the mural program’s database. Ideas often come from community members, who locate an appropriate mural site (highly visible to traffic and unblocked by trees, for example) and develop a theme based on historic figures, symbolic events, urban scenes and other relevant topics.

Mr. James, an artist, has worked on several Baltimore murals. His favorites are the ones that tell a story, such as the mural of Baltimore steelworkers in the Patterson Park neighborhood or the sepia-toned “Running of the Pigs” mural at 834 Washington Blvd.

“The steelworkers mural shows the steelworkers strike and the integration of women and people of color into the union,” Mr. James says. “The Pigtown mural tells the story of how in the 19th and early 20th century, pigs [were herded] through the streets on the way to the slaughterhouse.

“Every mural tells a story,” Mr. James says. “We try to show something that reflects the community.”

The Pigtown mural, completed in 2004, is based on a historical photograph. Mr. James worked on that mural with another artist, Tony Shore, as well as more than a dozen teenagers from the neighborhood.

The steelworkers mural, completed in 1997, is one of the largest, reaching across an old supermarket wall that stretches nearly a city block. Baltimore City Paper in 2003 named the steelworkers mural the best in the city, calling its scale “epic” and the final product “powerful.”

On a smaller scale, the Baltimore Farmers’ Market on Gay Street is the site of 25 columns painted with murals, which tell stories in a more compact form. Some are just for visual interest, such as the van-Gogh-like sky over the row-house neighborhood. Others tell the story of the location, such as the ones that depict farmers and their wares.

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