How Public Murals Are Giving Baltimore Its Own Voice

Nelson Riveras mural on 529 S. Broadway in Baltimore
Nelson Riveras mural on 529 S. Broadway in Baltimore | © Daniel Lobo / Flickr / Derivative from original

If art is a form of self-expression, then street art in Baltimore is the city’s way of expressing itself. Through community efforts, murals have transformed average street corners and run-down buildings into must-see colorful displays.

Many of the city’s best murals are the products of nonprofit campaigns with the aim to bring color to the city and draw people together. Run by the Baltimore Office for Promotion and the Arts, the Baltimore Mural Program has beautified multiple neighborhoods, combating graffiti and employing local artists. Over 250 murals have been produced in the 40 years the program has been running. Most funding for the program is made through local businesses or community fundraising, making it a group effort, and new murals are celebrated with a dedication ceremony.

Fell's Point Mural by Kerry Cesen on 417 S. Broadway, Baltimore. | © Eli Pousson / Flickr

In 2012, the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, home of the historic Charles Theatre and Penn Station, decided to put a more localized street art project into motion. They teamed up with local street artist Gaia to produce Open Walls Baltimore. For two months, 29 street artists from around the world created 23 murals and installations in public spaces.

Mural representing the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. | © Elvert Barnes / Flickr

In 2014, a follow up called Open Walls 2 was commissioned, with 15 artists. Both versions encouraged community bonding through surrounding events like parties, workshops, and public performances. In this way, Open Walls Baltimore has brought beauty to Station North, available for residents and visitors to appreciate and enjoy.

One of the stunning Open Walls Baltimore murals by Buenos Aires artist Jaz, on 406 E. Oliver Street. | © RJ / Flickr

Another notable street art campaign was the Baltimore Love Project. Florida native and MICA graduate Michael Owen created 20 identical murals from 2008 to 2012, with a very simple design: Four hands spelling the word “love.” The 20 murals are spread throughout the city so that as many Baltimoreans can feel the love as possible, with a special version made in Orlando, Florida in 2017 to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

You may spot famous figures such as Billie Holiday, Ta-Nehisi Coates, or James Baldwin, as well as stunning landscapes and modern art. To see them for yourself, check out the maps for one of the projects above, or Baltimore City’s Public Art & Murals Map.

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