Using radical methods, our project will unite three forces to catalyze discussion of Baltimore's vacancy problem and how to solve it:
Wall Hunters Inc, a recently created, street artist run nonprofit organization
- Baltimore Slumlord Watch
a film being made that gives voice to the ignored on the topic of vacancy and the power of street art.
In short, the project will bring together 15 artists from around the country, each of whom will install a large piece on a dilapidated vacant house. QR codes and text detailing the ownership information that is uncovered by Slumlord Watch will accompany the art. Voices of the people who live in these neglected areas of town, will be heard through a film being created to amplify the conversation between artists and community members.
...and more to be announced
There are an estimated 30-40,000 vacant structures in Baltimore City. A large percentage of these are in poor condition, a result of neglect by the City government and property owners. Blighted structures are not only responsible for low property values in surrounding neighborhoods; they also contribute to the city’s high crime rate. While the full extent of their impact is hard to quantify, the structures contribute to the overall apathy of community residents towards their neighborhoods and their government. There seems to be a prevailing,underlying view that “If the city doesn’t care, why should I?” This attitude has allowed Baltimore City to remain in a steady decline for decades – most notably, it can be seen in the population drain over the past ten years.
The vast majority of these blighted structures is owned by people or companies capable of maintaining or repairing them. However, too many owners have chosen to ignore the problem, blithely assuming the people in the surrounding neighborhoods are too poor to have the wherewithal to complain or take action. Most owners of vacants also own rental properties, many of which are in poor condition, allowing tenants to live with lead paint, leaking roofs, little or no essential services (water, heat), or serious structural problems.
Slumlord Watch’s efforts at exposing city property owners, including the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, using its blog and social media has opened the door to a citywide conversation about an issue that was previously ignored. Adding an artistic component will draw more people into the discussion, and we hope will inspire more residents to deal with this issue in a creative, productive way.
We will use large, uncommissioned street art pieces to expose and publicize vacant and derilict housing and the parties responsible for its conditions. The pieces aim to draw attention to specific properties whose owners have the means to improve the vacants but haven't. Art installations will span across Baltimore’s 14 districts. Next to the pieces, we will incorporate QR codes that link to online data (on the Slumlord Watch website), from which community members may learn about the housing and safety code violations on the property and about the owner responsible for the property’s decline. In addition to the QR codes, on the doors of the properties we will post text detailing the specific property violations and ownership information. Diving deeper into the issue, we will be joining forces with filmmakers whose film is being made to stimulate a conversation between community members and artists on the issue of Baltimore's overwhelming vacancy problem. The ultimate objective is to increase community, government, and public pressure to remedy the problem of vacant property in Baltimore City while promoting and recording the reaction of many individuals to street art aimed at visual improvement of vacant properties and general public benefit.
From Tarek Turkey and Julia Pitch:
Our documentary and the Wall Hunters project complement each other beautifully. Like the street artists and Slumlord Watch, we want to stimulate discussion on issues that are tragically unseen, although the vacants are in front of everyone's eyes, on every corner. What is happening in Baltimore? What will our communities look like in ten years? Will the vacancy problem receive any attention? Can street art really help? Or is it maybe even at the heart of Baltimore's vibrant aesthetic? Ultimately, we will ask the viewers to decide if and how street art can address these monstrous problems.
We will follow street artist Nether and Slumlord Watch’s Carol Ott throughout our 55 minute documentary film, as Wall Hunters in its first fullscale collaboration, takes its work to the next level. A segment featuring the July 2013 launch of the project will include the fifteen installations and community interaction. We will capture the process of putting up work and the art’s subsequent reverberations for the communities. Capturing community conversations is not only interesting but instrumental in exploring how exactly radical activism can bring people together.
"With that being said, the most powerful part of the documentary is not the bare skeletons of homes that Nether tags and Ott documents, but the communities of people residents who live and play around burned out, abandoned wrecks, who are both discouraged by the rapidly declining conditions surrounding them and empowered by the reclaiming of these eyesores into artistic landscapes."
- Liz Harby, What Weekly, 30 May, 2013
Why we need YOUR help:
We wrote a grant and received a sizable anonymous donation and used Public Interest Projects as our fiscal sponsor. That is enough to do the very minimum but we need to make sure this project makes a sizable splash. To make it happen the right way, we need to pay the filmmakers and artists fairly for their time and efforts and get the word out all over the city. The filming of community interviews began back in February and the filmmakers along with everybody from the graphic designer to those doing the endless ground research have been working for free. Our artists are enthusiastic, willing to work for reduced rates and many are even willing to travel to Baltimore on their own dollar. We want to compensate them fairly, publicize their work and record their impact on our city. We need you to ignite our project with your participation. Come on. Let’s hold these slumlords accountable.