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Public Artist

Talking Artscape, murals, and moving on with BOPA's Gary Kachadourian

Frank Klein
Gary Kachadourian says he does some of his best thinking--and drawing--on the bus.
"Trash Container," one of Kachadourian's series of life-size prints he draws on paper then enlarges to mammoth scale.
A detail of "Motors Installation," a collection of doodle drawings Kachadourian has been creating since he was in junior high school.
Frank Klein

By Tim Hill | Posted 8/12/2009

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In 1996, odd street signs started popping up around the city. They featured official-looking typefaces and official-looking shapes, but if you were to check to see if it was OK to park beneath one, you'd read, for example, show me the money. If you looked a little closer, you'd find a phone number for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA). If you called it, you'd be connected to Gary Kachadourian, BOPA's visual arts coordinator, who was ultimately responsible for making the project happen, from recruiting artists to make the signs to coordinating Department of Transportation workers to put them up.

In fact, if you had inquired about any public art project over the past 22 years--from the city's mural program, temporary public installations, the riotous midway exhibitions at the last two Artscapes as well as the indoor exhibitions and the outdoor sculptures that linger on Mount Royal Terrace long after the annual festival ends--you'd be connected to the Baltimore visual artist whose day job has involved tirelessly searching for new and unconventional ways to connect the city at large with it's creative class.

It would be an understatement to say that Kachadourian, 52, is beloved among Baltimore's artists. Since the city hired him in 1987 to coordinate projects for the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, he's put in long workdays and sat through countless meetings in order to get their art in front of people. And our city is richer for the work he's done, weaving art into our public spaces.

This month, Kachadourian is stepping down. The man--whose impish sense of humor and self-effacing manner can motivate dozens of artists to, say, fan through the once heavily blighted blocks now known as the Station North neighborhood, covering abandoned houses with paintings, posters, sculptures and photographs with just an e-mail--says it's time to do art full time. His kids have finished college, and he's ready to go back to school. He's enrolled at UMBC for the fall and will work on an MFA in imaging and digital arts. 

But that doesn't mean he's through with public art. He has a number of projects in the works, from a whimsical exhibit of artists' doodles to working on affordable housing and studio space for working artists. He's just finally quit his day job, and he sat down in a conference room just days before his last day at BOPA to talk about it. The following is an edited version of that conversation; video excerpts are viewable online at citypaper.com/go/kachadourian. (Disclosure: My wife holds a part-time position with BOPA, but does not work for Kachadourian's department.)

City Paper: You graduated from MICA. What's your degree?

Gary Kachadourian: General fine arts. BFA.

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