Hack the Trash: Community Art Project

Hack the trashOn Sunday, August 11th, an exciting new public art project began in Patterson Park of particular interest to The New Century School community. Merging social activism and environmental awareness with art, “Hack the Trash” is part of a city-wide venture to improve our parks. Hack the Trash, a trash drum painting project, targets three main goals simultaneously: 1) adding more trash cans in public areas to deter littering, 2) beautifying the drums to promote increased use, and 3) raising awareness about a social issue—the art delivers a message on a chosen theme. The first session centered on Chesapeake Bay consciousness; the next, to be held Sunday, August 18th, also in Patterson Park, will focus on the park itself.

Led by artist Ben Peterson, Session 1 began with an explanation of “the importance of the Harris Creek Watershed and its connection to Patterson Park,” said the project’s main organizer, photographer Brian Schneider. Harris Creek runs below Canton, with its watershed covering a geographic area from Clifton Park down to the harbor at Harris Creek (north/south boundary) and from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Patterson Park (west/east boundary). In urban watersheds, stormwater management becomes highly important insofar as stormwater runoff transports bacteria, nutrients, sediments, toxins, and trash through storm drains into tributaries and ultimately into the Chesapeake Bay. So, about 15 people gathered to paint the eight cans raising public awareness about the watershed (photos courtesy of Brian Schneider Photography shown below).

Mr. Schneider says that Hack the Trash is actually part of a bigger venture called “Hack the Parks,” a partnership between the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT) and Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks, which challenged Baltimoreans to improve our urban green spaces. A series of grants was awarded in June to the cream of the project proposals. Hack the Trash was one of six pilot projects receiving this seed money in addition to park space and Rec and Parks resources. Though MOIT underwrites the project, technology is not necessarily a prerequisite for getting funded. The Hack the Park website states: “By hacking, we mean [that] citizens develop their own applications (whether they be technology-based or not) which create simple, tangible benefits for the community.” Now the name “Hack the Trash” begins to make a lot of sense—but with “paint application” rather than something we can run on our smartphones!

Altogether, Hack the Trash plans to hold 5–10 sessions, depending on the number of artists and participants, to paint a total of 30 cans purchased with their $1,200 grant. Mr. Schneider told the Baltimore Guide that he and his neighbors “applied for the grant because they got sick of seeing trash blowing all over Patterson Park.” Comparing Baltimore to larger cities that have less litter, they felt that part of the problem was simply not enough trash receptacles, and Hack the Trash was born. The project will also make sure that the receptacles are immediately visible but in an aesthetically pleasing way, rather than blending in with the background and getting missed, as sometimes might be the case.

So Patterson Park lovers, be sure to look for the new cans during your next visit—as well as consider joining Leanna Wetmore from Banner Neighborhoods at the Friends of Patterson Park House for Session 2 on August 18th at 4 p.m.  All ages can participate, and the kids would get a chance to have some fun, beautify their surroundings, and learn, all at the same time! Isn’t “technology” wonderful?

Baltimore Love Project

The New Century School thinks Michael Owen and Scott Burkholder are what you might call “lovely” people. Together, these two are spreading (literally!) a message of community and social involvement across Baltimore City called the Baltimore Love Project. You may have received the memo without even realizing it. It comes in the form of a mural-sized silhouette of four disembodied hands spelling out L-O-V-E on the exterior walls of various city buildings. By the end of 2012, Baltimore neighborhoods will be graced with 20 such murals, ranging in size but all depicting the same striking image.

this large mural fronts a building on Broadway Ave.

Broadway Ave. mural in Baltimore

It makes you stop and think, this image. And that’s the whole point, according to Owen, the artist and project creator, and Burkholder, the Executive Director. “BLP is about helping people understand that public art matters and providing access to it. It’s a powerful platform for social change,” says Burkholder. To BLP, every street corner, city wall, and alleyway is a potential canvas, a canvas that should engage the community.

LOVE sticker spruces up a fire hydrant in Patterson Park

LOVE is everywhere!

“What might change,” asks Owen, if a powerful positive message was very publicly displayed for a city-wide audience? “What would people start to do differently?” What BPL wants is to instigate, to stir up some discussion. The art is, indeed, stirring, but it’s a very gentle confrontation. It’s certainly hard to be unaffected on some level by such a large, physical piece. It’s a challenge at its most basic level. “LOVE,” it simultaneously shouts and whispers–is it a command, or is it a request? Is it a dance? The work is deliberately minimal, says Owen. It’s a distillation–no details–so it speaks to all people, not any one particular group, yet it affects everyone a little differently. It’s a true democratizer.

TNCS, in sharing very similar values of community and democracy, has formed what promises to become a very fruitful partnership with BLP. “Schools have become a big part of the project,” says Owen. “It’s a natural fit.” Schools provide the ideal point of engagement with the larger community. Moreover, school-age kids fairly bubble over with what he calls “unreserved excitement” to talk and respond with “raw thoughts about elemental things.” Like love, for example.
Says Alicia Danyali, Head of TNCS , “The benefits of this partnership will not only allow the school to support community art projects, but will in turn enable us to develop educational opportunities for the entire TNCS community.”  In exchange for TNCS selling BLP merchandise (available for purchase at TNCS’s online store) for fundraising, BLP will create one of their murals in the school’s name as well as provide some on-site education and maybe even some inspiration. Students will attend an assembly on public art and how the theme of love is represented, the primary and elementary classes will work together to create a school mural, and there may be a visit to Owen’s studio in the works to get a first-hand look at the process.
TNCS and BLP are collaborating to make art and the social and cultural revolution it can inspire accessible to all. What’s not to love?

students pressed and painted hands for these stepping stones for TNCS front garden

TNCS students make hand art, too!