2021 Orientation: Community Arts Programs

MARCUS BREED | ART WITH A HEART

The orientation taught me a lot about the history of Baltimore that I did not know. I had always known that Hopkins had a negative presence to many people, but I did not know the specifics of its harm. So many projects were carried out using Black bodies as collateral in the name of “science” or “progress”. It is infuriating to see how much Johns Hopkins University tries to distance itself from these projects and even masquerade as a progressive institution without truly giving back to the communities they harmed. While I am thankful that community outreach programs and the CSC exist, I cannot imagine what it must be like to have Hopkins students try to “help” you when you know firsthand how much the institution has hurt your community.

It made me think very deeply about my presence in the community. I am very clearly not from Baltimore, and obviously here for university. I try not to wear my JHU merchandise out, but even then it would not be difficult to guess where I go to school. I actively work on not falling into a white savior mindset while doing outreach work, but due to my privileged background, sometimes I instinctively think in harmful ways. Learning more about the city really reminded me to reflect more on why I do the work that I do.

Recently, I watched a comedy special that had a line that stuck out to me – “Why do you rich […] white people insist on seeing every socio-political conflict through the myopic lens of your own self-actualization?” This resonated with me. Sometimes I fear that I do charity work simply because it makes me feel good or makes me feel like a good person when I should really be thinking more about how my work can help others. The last thing I want to do is come off as entitled and self-serving to the people I want to work with, so I will try to keep these ideas in mind when starting my internship this week.

CAROLINE COLVIN | DEWMORE BALTIMORE

526 days after submitting the application, 490 days since interview day, and 470 days after receiving official acceptance… my CIIP journey has officially begun. As part of the deferred 2020 cohort, this internship has been a long time coming, and I could not be more excited to hit the ground running!

As I reflect back on the past five days of orientation, I am struck by one term in particular — community partner. A week ago, I likely would not have given this combination of words much thought (partner is fairly common vernacular in the professional world, after all). However, after five intensive days of educational workshops, I cannot help but notice the intentionality of this wording.

As Keiona Gorham of Wide Angle Youth Media Community expressed this week, public sector work can easily blur into saviorism. That is, viewing less privileged communities as ‘struggling’ and in need of ‘help.’ There is a difference between charity (‘help-giving’) and partnership-oriented service. The former is patronizing and reductionist, while the latter takes into account holistic life experiences influenced by a number of systems.

Referring to sponsoring organizations as community partners rebukes saviorism, emphasizing two central aspects of CIIP: community-driven development (projects designed by and for the community) and mutually beneficial pairings between intern and supervisor. It is my job as an intern to support and uplift the mission of my organization and their community — not to project my own thoughts onto others.

Orientation has left me with much to consider as I head into my first week interning with DewMore Baltimore. I aim to embrace the journey at all times, even and especially when uncomfortable. I aim to be open and receptive to criticism, honoring my supervisor’s many years of experience. I aim to strengthen my identity as an ‘artivist,’ adopting tools to carry forward along the way. Above all else, I aim to listen and learn.

NINA DAVIS | FORCE

Being on the computer and staying engaged was the most difficult. I had done many of these workshops just because I had done advocacy, service, and teaching throughout high school in Baltimore. Therefore, a lot of orientation was repeated information for me. Conversations surrounding target audience, coming with privilege, ensuring you listen to locals, racism, microaggressions, etc., etc. However, sometimes it’s good to be reintroduced and get back into that critical headspace.

My favorite part of orientation, as I said, was the scavenger hunt because I like to learn new things about my home city. It makes me happy that I am still learning new things about my hometown.

Additionally, the workshop on the understanding of trauma and the brain’s responses was incredibly interesting. For FORCE, I will primarily be handling the movement of quilt squares from their now-ended Monument Quilt project. My job will be to ensure that these squares find their home either with their owner or with cultural and/or historical institutions that will preserve this bit of history and, more importantly, the stories associated with them. The workshop was adjacent to the work I will be doing. Despite not directly working with people recounting their experiences, I still get to work with the squares of their stories. Therefore, I found this information important along the lines of further understanding as well as maintenance of respect throughout all my communications this summer.

SIGRID EDSON | STATION NORTH ARTS DISTRICT

I just got into Baltimore yesterday, so today — the day before work starts — I walked down to my placement in Station North and back. I wanted to make sure I knew how to get there and how long it would take, but after orientation I was also just so excited to see the neighborhood, to begin my experience as soon and as wholly as possible. I went in the morning, south on St. Paul and north on Charles, saying hello to dog walkers and stopping to look at the murals.

One of the things I noticed most on my walk was how many of the buildings were occupied by community organizations. I wish I had been writing them down, or taking pictures, or even just counting. Orientation heightened my awareness of the richness of Baltimore’s civil society, but seeing it for myself proved the point. The fact that I came across literally dozens of community spaces filling all different niches and needs within ten blocks of my apartment astonished me, even though I knew in theory that it would be the case.

Throughout and since orientation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between trying to become a part of the community I’m working in and keeping in mind that I’m not and never truly will be: I’m not from there, I don’t live there, and I will only know the place as an outsider. As I walked through the district in my actual, physical body, rather than over Google Street View or Zoom, it felt obvious for the first time that this was not inherently a barrier; it was just part of how I would show up every day. It will inform how I work and interact with people and I will do all I can to be cognizant and responsive to my privileges, but isn’t something inherently negative or unhelpful. Even walking through the neighborhood for the first time, I felt welcome. A few older guys sitting in a park on North Avenue yelled “good morning” across the street to me, and I waved and yelled it back.

The other major tension I’ve been thinking a lot about as I anticipate starting work is the tension between taking my own initiative and following the community’s lead. Having spoken a few times with my supervisor, I know that I will have to do the former to be successful, but I’m not sure how I will balance it with the latter. With regard to this, one of the panelists from Wide Angle who spoke at orientation said something I now have highlighted in my notes from last week: Baltimore is full of potential and genius, and I am just one more person in it who also has potential and genius. This makes me think about bringing my own ideas to the table but remembering that I’m not the only one who has them, and that I probably don’t have the very best ones. Going forward, this also will remind me to look around me more than I look within me, even if I do have to tackle logistics and programming challenges on my own. I’m really looking forward to using my walks to and from work as a time and space to reflect on the buildings and the people and the genius and potential all around me.

ZARA HAMID | BALTIMORE YOUTH ARTS

Even just within this week of orientation I feel that I have learned so much about both the Baltimore community and myself. I walked into this orientation completely unsure of myself, as I didn’t know what my role in both CIIP and the border Baltimore community was. With the various panels, activities, and discussions that have occurred, I have come to realize a few very broad goals for my time in CIIP that I hope to be able to refine through the next eight weeks.

Through the different discussions and presentations, I came to understand just a small portion of the different challenges that Baltimore faces, inflicted by both Johns Hopkins as a university and the larger structures of institutional and structural racism that are ever present. I hope that in my work with Baltimore Youth Arts, I will be able to aid the youth in their career development so that they are able to break out of the cycles of poverty that have been inflicted on them. This brings me to my first goal: though I hope to help a wide variety of youth, this summer will be a success if I manage to help even just one Baltimore youth in their career development journey. A secondary goal that is very related to this is helping to grow BYA through grant applications in order to increase the number of students they can both employ and bring into their arts camp, and the growth of their presence on social media to bring more attention to the student’s artwork.

Finally, I hope to learn more about the entire nonprofit sector. Prior to applying to CIIP I had no idea that the nonprofit sector existed, as I thought it was entirely volunteer run. BYA, luckily, has been willing to accommodate my request to learn everything there is about the different parts of the nonprofit sector, so I hope that through all the different tasks and projects that they will be assigning to me, I will be able to find a niche for me to pursue in my future career.

KATHY TIEN | WIDE ANGLE YOUTH MEDIA

This past week in orientation has refined my understanding of my privilege, positionality within civic engagement, and the meaning of the work I will do this summer. Our conversations within the cohort and with local thought leaders emphasized the lived experiences of BIPOC communities living in Baltimore. For people of color living in a city with past discriminatory policies, life means having to deal with the systematic disadvantages ingrained within Baltimore’s history. As mentioned in one of the guest speakers this week, although de jure segregation no longer exists, de facto segregation very much remains in the city’s system. This week has given me a small glimpse of what it is like for Baltimoreans, and I have just scratched the surface. However, I leave orientation with a better understanding of why it is so incredibly harmful for outsiders to make assumptions about Baltimore without comprehensive knowledge of why issues in the city exist. If you don’t know the history, or you have never experienced living in a disadvantaged neighborhood and community, it is difficult to truly understand. That is why my position and perspective while working within the community is important – I have to remind myself that I may not have the solution to every problem, and that I am, first and foremost, a listener and an ally. I will continue to have difficult conversations with those at Wide Angle, and every day when I come in for work, I will have an open mind and heart. I may not share (or even fully understand) the lived experiences of those I work with, but I accept my position of being an outsider and a JHU student. I recognize the privilege to be able to go out into the community to learn from others.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,