As one steps out of the elevator and onto the 27th floor of the World Trade Center Baltimore, they expect the whole level to be dedicated to the Unframed: Baltimore Mural Program exhibit advertised in the lobby of the building. Instead, one might walk around the room for a few minutes before realizing that the “exhibit” consisted of 18 small photographs of murals shyly displayed along two of the inside walls. The main attraction was clearly the remarkable view, with little stands describing some of Baltimore’s history. The temporary Unframed exhibit also had to share some of the space with the permanent 9/11 memorial. Others thoughts on the matter could not be garnered, as sadly, no one else was present.
Disconcertingly timid, the exhibit is inspiring nonetheless. What is this Baltimore Mural Project? Made possible by the 1974 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, this project started in 1985. Since then, local artists all over Baltimore City have painted over 175 murals, thus brightening otherwise bland or even gloomy neighborhoods. These painters have turned mundane buildings into works of art. Their murals are aptly described by the exhibit presentation as “iconic gateways to eclectic neighborhoods.” They focus on people’s interactions, natural scenes or unusual urban settings, and generally send a message of hope, perseverance and optimism.
Among the incongruous pictures in this assortment, one struck out as particularly enthusiastic. On the side of a house at 1137 Harford Road, Jessie Unterhalter and Katie Truhn painted two hands cupping colorful buildings, lifting them up.
In between the green, white and blue buildings, a flower sprouts, springing up towards the sun. The rest of the painting consists of a maelstrom of colors, fauna and sprawling constructions, set against the red sun in the background. It is not entirely clear whether the plants are trying to wage war against civilization and reclaim their rightful land, or are simply surviving among the buildings despite man’s best efforts to get rid of them.
Closer to campus, you can spot Gary Mullen’s work at the intersection of 33rd and Greenmount. As colorful as the rest of the murals if not more, this one depicts a Baltimorean landmark of the past.
It celebrates the former glory of the Memorial Stadium as well as the rest of Waverly. Vivid football and baseball jerseys serve as a reminder of the sports history that took place blocks away from campus, in the Orioles’ and Ravens’ previous ballpark that was demolished in 2001. Mullen’s artwork skillfully immortalizes our favorite teams’ past exploits. Some of the murals are less notable but most of them are extremely well done. You can spot a good number of them just walking along Charles Street.
The Baltimore Murals Project is a commendable initiative, and the exhibit showcases the pride of truly talented artists with a positive impact on their community.
The laughable size of the display could throw one off at first.
However, the more one thinks about it, the more sense it seems to make.
Much like the murals themselves, hidden throughout Baltimore for passers-by to pleasantly stumble upon, this refreshing exhibition sits quietly at the very top of one of the Inner Harbor’s dullest-looking towers. There is a certain beauty to it.
So, while you might not want to go out of your way to see this meager collection of pictures, you should definitely climb that tower if you find yourself with an hour to kill around Pratt Street. And even if street art isn’t your thing, you still get to stare into Baltimore’s industrial past from the “Top of The World.” Maybe not enough to warrant the title of “Greatest City in America,” but it’s worth your time and five dollars.
Regardless, next time you’re riding on the JHMI shuttle back from the hospital or Peabody, look up from your textbook and try to get a glimpse of the talent on display in this City.