Baltimore group helps reimagine city’s Confederate monuments, address inequity in arts scene

February 12, 2018

Source: The Baltimore Sun, February 8, 2018

by Brittany Britto

Artist Sheila Gaskins performed all over the city before she noticed the arts community was segregated. On one part of town, audience members were predominantly black. On the other, they were all white.

“I didn’t understand how divided the city was when it came to race relations. In Station North and a couple areas downtown, they kept getting these young white kids [who were] having buildings and theaters and spaces to do art,” Gaskins said.

As a black artist, she began to wonder how they were able to solidify those spaces.

“We don’t have buildings to express ourselves and do art,” she thought.

Gaskins decided to find out. She and eight other people distributed a flier with the question: “Is Baltimore Segregated?”

The flier caught the attention of the community, leading Gaskins to eventually co-host a panel discussion on Baltimore’s racial divides at 2640 Space for more than four hours. On Super Bowl Sunday in 2015, around 500 people attended to discuss city segregation through dialogue, poetry and art.

Three years later, Gaskins and her group of organizers are still having these conversations with their arts group, Artpartheid. Named after a poem Gaskins had written years before about disparities in the city’s art scene, the local arts group acts as “a place where we can have some really intense conversations about equity and race and not feeling bad about any of it,” Gaskins said.

In October, Artpartheid partnered with local organizations and spaces, including the Living Well Center, WombWorks and Arch Social Club to launch the “Monumental Moments” series, along with artist Pablo Machioli, who created the anti-hate statue “Madre Luz” to protest the since-removed monument of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Wyman Park Dell. In the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which spawned Baltimore’s removal of its four Confederate monuments in August, the sessions enabled residents to discuss and process the removal of the monuments and their history, and to brainstorm what should stand in their place after Mayor Catherine E. Pugh asked residents for “creative ideas” and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts opened an online portal, calling for suggestions, Gaskins said.

Thanks to a $1,200 grant from nonprofit Maryland Humanities Maryland Humanities, the conversations will continue this year.

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