A community-art project helps kids tell the story of their neighborhood
It's Halloween on Huntingdon Avenue in Remington, and the kid in the old man mask and trench coat wants to know where Miss B is. It's not like there isn't enough going on--a few feet away a man dressed as Wolverine is offering chances to shoot glow sticks into a pumpkin with a crossbow, and a clown next door has a fistful of darts and a wall full of balloons. Across the street someone is playing "Jumping Jack Flash" through a PA system set up on the porch, and a DJ is warming up mid-block. It seems like everyone in the neighborhood is milling about, giving out candy, asking for candy, eating candy, or launching something at a makeshift target, but this kid wants to know where Miss B is.
She's inside, as it happens, changing into her costume before getting started with the recording studio on the porch. She's a mummy this year, and the 32-year-old community artist is almost unrecognizable under the layers of gauze wrap. When she emerges, mummified, Miss B, whose real name is Beth Barbush, starts hunting for kids to take the microphone for this year's Remington Youth/Community Radio Project (RYCR).
Brittney Scudder, 17, is a prime catch for Barbush, who has seen her skateboarding around the neighborhood. Off the skateboard, Brittney wants to be a writer--poetry and short fiction--and she's intrigued by the idea of interviewing people as a way to get ideas for stories.
She would make a perfect addition to Barbush's radio workshop, which meets every Tuesday down the street at the Church of the Guardian Angel. The class is a little heavy on younger kids right now--generally 9 to 12 years old--so someone like Brittney, older, more focused, could be a big help.
Brittney has already interviewed a couple of younger kids for the night's topic: the Halloween-appropriate question "What scares you?" She gets back kid answers. The child who answers "people in masks" must be having a hard time tonight.
Nathalie Etori gets pulled to the interview table from the sidewalk. She plays it for laughs--she says she's afraid of being kidnapped, although she has no direct experience with it, then points to her friend, trick or treating with his young child in matching cave man outfits, and says she's particularly afraid of being left alone with him.
Next up is Elouise Thompson, who lives around the block, and has lived in Remington for about 10 years. Sixtysomething, she's dressed as a clown and carries a doll. What scares her the most? "Poverty."
How does that make her feel? "It makes me feel like we're living in uncertain times and it makes me feel that things might get a bit worse than they are now."
Anything else? "Homelessness," she answers. "The thought that more people might become homeless because of joblessness. I don't like hunger. I don't like to see people hungry, but because of the economy being in the state that it's in . . . it might get worse."
Brittney's tape recorder rolls on, and people find their way to the porch through chance or the sidewalk recruitment efforts of Miss B. The interviews mark the beginning of a new year for the RYCR, and if it seems a little chaotic as interviewers and interviewees drop in and out, switch places, or take off in search of candy, it's partly because the project is fairly new, and partly by design.
The project is run by Art on Purpose, a small non-profit organization that has spent the past five years trying to bring the arts into individual Baltimore communities and those communities into more intimate contact with the arts through workshops and exhibitions. While the Remington project focuses on kids, Art on Purpose founder Peter Bruun says the organization does just as much with adults. And while Bruun and company are serious about the "on Purpose" part of the group's name, achieving that purpose is a more fluid enterprise.
"In Remington, it's one of the ways we engage the community, through the kids," he says. "We think of kids as a kind of interest group, just as we think of immigrants as an interest group, or recovering addicts as an interest group. Whatever it is, we identify the way to communicate with that interest group.
"What direction are we going to take? That depends on a lot of variables," Bruun says of the project. "We start with a theory of what we want to do. Sort of a wide lens of what's possible, then it's sort of where does the water want to flow, and that's where the Remington project is right now."
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