Bright Ideas from Baltimore’s Citizens

This article is part of a package on creativity. For more, read “The Future of Creativity,” “Why Essays Are So Damn Boring,” “The Creativity Conceit,” “Art + Science= Inspiration,” and “Putting the Arts Back into the Arts.”

Baltimore’s public schools are pockmarked with empty classrooms; the students who haven’t yet fled the district aren’t getting much arts instruction. Meanwhile, the city’s young artists, with talent and enthusiasm to spare, struggle to pay for studio space.

Artist Dana Reifler Amato and architect Peter Doo, who were charged with dreaming up a pie-in-the-sky project to serve the city, see an obvious solution here: Give vacant school space to artists in exchange for art instruction. “How inspirational would it be for students to be able to see or hear work being created in the moment? It would be an entirely different experience than simply taking an art class with an art teacher,” write Amato and Doo in Urbanite (March 2008).

The pair teamed up for the Urbanite Project, sponsored for two years running by the zesty free magazine that reports on culture and people in Baltimore. The participants are given few parameters: Basically, team members meet one another, talk about their interests, and hash out a project idea over the course of a few months.

One group took aim at the infamous divisions between Baltimore’s 270-plus communities by organizing a neighborhood exchange program. Participants from three neighborhoods, adjacent to one another but varying widely in racial composition, income, and education levels, toured each other’s stomping grounds to gain “true insiders’ perspectives” of nearby blocks they might normally avoid.

In a similar spirit, another team proposed geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt that utilizes a GPS device instead of a crinkly old map. Personalized geocaches could direct adventurous Baltimoreans to the latitude and longitude coordinates of the “treasures” they’re most interested in, whether it’s the city’s duckpin bowling alleys or any of the other “sacred, communal, and whimsical places” that aren’t widely known.

“We hope these projects can inspire others to dream up and pursue their own ideas, no matter how wild or unlikely,” writes Urbanite editor Marianne Amoss. “As the saying goes, it’s so crazy, it might just work.” 

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