2016 Week One: Arts


“Hey OSCAR!” … “SAM!” … “ah fuck it… HEY WHITE GUY!”

My stomach clenched as I steadily came to the realization that the man yelling behind me was trying to get my attention. As the only white guy on the 1800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue that day, I definitely fit the bill.

I turned around hesitantly and was relieved by a familiar face. It was Tony, a man I had met earlier that day when I was out on the block trying to collect signatures from business owners whose dispositions ranged from friendly to disgruntled.

“Sorry, I forgot your name!” Tony said – I had forgotten his too.

“You get those signatures yet?” Tony asked.

“Yep!” I said. “Thanks for your help man. I’ll see you around.”

Tony smiled and gave me a fist bump. He also told me that he was hungry, and I told him to come by Jubilee at 6pm when I get off – “we have lots of snacks.”

I walked back up the block to my work site, enjoying the satisfying feeling that I had finally evolved to something above ‘Wandering White Guy.’ Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a bit out of place. On the first day of my internship, my site supervisor Nora took me out to show me around the Upton/Sandtown-Winchester area and collect signatures from neighbors and local businesses. We were bringing spreadsheets and paper contracts with us, so I instinctively grabbed a free clipboard off of Nora’s desk.

“Nah, you don’t want to bring that.” Nora said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Cause white people knocking on doors with a clipboard isn’t the best thing for community relations.”

I understood. This was my main worry about my internship this summer; I was nervous about being a white dude on Pennsylvania Avenue – one block away from where the uprising started and a few blocks away from Freddie Gray’s old stomping grounds – soliciting people about ‘neighborhood beautification.’

My nervousness was justified. But it certainly wasn’t the focal point of my experience this past week; after getting past some initial awkwardness, most of the people I spoke to were happy about what we’re doing this summer, and I’ve gotten used to cold calling.

Still, I know that it’s unreasonable to expect that I won’t feel like a foreign element half of the time; it’s just a matter of being comfortable operating with the social dissonance that comes with it. I actually find it exhilarating.

When I’m not canvassing Pennsylvania Avenue and talking with Jubilee’s [mostly] friendly neighbors (there was one gentleman at a Chinese restaurant who kindly told me to ‘shut the fuck up’), I’ve been doing some legal sleuthing on city tax databases in a largely fruitless effort to cajole absentee landlords into allowing us to paint on their buildings. Since we’re trying to get consecutive neighboring businesses and vacant buildings to sign on to a continuous mural design for the whole block, the job feels a bit like trying to set up a monopoly in the eponymous game. Ironically, I’d be having better luck if I were actually trying to buy some of these properties rather than paint a pretty picture on them.

“You trying to buy the house?” asked one ‘representative’ from a realty company listed frequently on slumlordwatch.com. I told him that, no, I wasn’t.

He replied: “Damn, I’d sell you the whole city for some weed. You guys gonna go in there and renovate or something? I don’t care what you do. This is Murder City, there’s so much messed up shit… putting more lipstick on the mayor isn’t going to change anything.”

“Why don’t you guys actually try to fix things in the city instead of wasting your time with this?”

I fumbled my way through the rest of the conversation, stunned by the defeatism he was channeling to me over the phone. It’s this defeatism, I think, is what separates the friendly folks from the ones who want nothing to do from me. A conversation with the landlord of another vacant storefront provides the perfect foil – incidentally, the building used to be a convenience store that was burned out during the riots.

“Go ahead and do whatever you want to do with the building” the man said over the phone. “I’m sure it’ll send a positive message.”

picture of Sophie Adelman CIIPSOPHIE ADELMAN – 901 ARTS

This week, I learned how important it is–when entering a job situation–to be excited by the tasks expected. I realize now that I may have let my imagination and my own personal vision of my internship get the best of me in agreeing to work where I am placed. For instance, because the organization I have been placed at has a drumline, I thought that I would be able to assist in teaching–maybe even bring some of my own knowledge on the subject. In reality, this is not a very likely possibility, even though this is what it said on the placement details. It is interesting to me how quickly I was able to tell that arts administration/education is not the right career path for me. I wish that I had challenged myself a bit more in picking a placement that would test me in a new ways.

Having said that, I am keeping a positive and open attitude towards my internship. Although I am not thrilled by the tasks expected of me, which consist of a lot of spreadsheets and looking up software, I have been able to get to know one of my coworkers, Nathan, and have gotten to discuss music with him–we are both percussionists and he has already taught me about what it’s like to be a professional musician and artist at the same time. A highlight of the week was handing out flyers and camp registration forms around Better Waverly to families sitting on their front porches–I enjoyed interacting with the people I have gotten to meet in the neighborhood so far and the conversations I’ve had with people in the street. Coincidentally, when arriving for the Injustice Walk yesterday, a guide (I regrettably do not remember his name) said that he recognized me from somewhere–it turned out that he lived right up the street from where I work.

Even though I haven’t as thrilled by my placement/ tasks to work on this summer as I had hoped I would, my better judgment is telling me that this is only the beginning and I can’t judge a book by the cover–or the first chapter. Maybe I know that I don’t want to work in an arts camp setting forever, but that is not to say that I can’t learn new things along the way. My goal for now is that by the end of next week, I will be able to rate my week by a higher number.


“Thank you all for joining us tonight” Susan Malone’s voice announced to the crowd of students and their families as we all gathered in courtyard of the Miller’s Court Offices. Wide Angle hosted their spring semester closing ceremony this past Thursday evening, creating a night for students, teachers, and family members to reflect on the past semester and all of the amazing work they had created during it– from moving short films, to a book allowing students to express their feelings on Baltimore and last year’s uprising, to the beginnings of an app which will teach skills the importance of punctuality.
The week was honestly a bit of an odd way to start. It gave off vaguely Harry Potter vibes with the “open at the close” start to the summer. I found myself in a weird transitional period as one semester winds down and summer programs had yet to start. This week was honestly full of paperwork, and phone calls. Not the exciting things anyone really looks forward to when working with a youth group. However, it was a great reminder of why the people at Wide Angle do what they do, and how much work has to be done just to ensure that the summer programs can run effectively. A break from teaching for them, and a motivation for me to ensure I can help the students this summer have a smooth and captivating experience.

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