Friday, March 18, 2011
When Scotty Walsh found out that art had been cut from the curriculum at Westport Academy, a k-8 public school in a working class neighborhood in South Baltimore, he decided to do something about it.
A street performer, accomplished vaudevillian, and the visual arts specialist for Port Discovery Children's Museum, Walsh partnered with Westport Academy to create an eight-week, after-school arts program to engage students in painting. The result of that effort was on display at Port Discovery yesterday, as the young artists unveiled a colorful mural in front of media representatives, parents, museum officials, and special guests gathered in the museum's art room.
"Art really made all of the difference for me when I was a kid, so I've never forgotten the importance of art in the lives of children," said Walsh in a museum press release. "I think it's especially important to develop art programs and hopefully reach some of the children that need art in their lives."
The program was embraced by administrators at Westport Academy, where 83 percent of students are eligible for the federal free lunch program, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. The school serves a historically African-American community with a once-thriving economy which nosedived as businesses closed down or left Baltimore in the '70's, '80's, and '90's.
To jump start the painting project, Walsh sought funding from Patrick Turner, a prominent local developer who hopes to reverse the economic fortunes of the neighborhood with an ambitious $35 million waterfront redevelopment project. Walsh also reached out to Bonnie Crockett of Westport Community Partnerships and to acclaimed Chattanooga-based sculptor John Henry, who plans to install a large-scale work in the Westport waterfront space.
Henry spoke to the Westport students who gathered for yesterday's mural unveiling, calling them "the next generation of creative leaders." Each of the eight children who completed the after-school program received a certificate signed by the sculptor.
The students also drew self-portraits, taking inspiration from the self-portraits of famous artists that covered the walls.
The 5' x 10' painting will reside in Port Discovery's StudioWorkshop exhibit space.