Twenty-nine students with backgrounds in painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture, photography, graphic design, art history, and curatorial studies collaborated with dozens of partners from a broad array of fields to create this year’s installment of MICA’s Exhibition Design Seminar course, Baltimore: Open City, one of the most timely and relevant exhibitions in the course’s history.
According to the student curators, “an open city is a place where everyone feels welcome, regardless of such things as wealth, race, age, or religion. In every neighborhood of an open city, one feels like he or she belongs. however, in Baltimore—as in most American metropolitan areas—issues like housing discrimination, bad public transportation, and the privatization of public space separate people and create an uneven distribution of health, wealth, and education.”
The course was led by Daniel D’Oca, co-founder of the New York architecture firm Interboro Partners, who sees Baltimore as a city of great problems as well as great opportunities. Acting as curators, MICA students created most of the works and also had the privilege of collaborating with artists like Damon Rich, founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy, and James Rojas, co-founder of the Latino Urban Forum, who created a small-scale model of the city where visitors could literally pick up buildings and move them to different parts of the city.
The topics explored were as diverse as the art forms represented throughout the exhibition: racial divisions were explored through video; socio-economic inequities were expressed through sculpture; interactive design demonstrated migratory patterns; and evolving economic models, health disparities, crime cycles, and self-image were expressed through a hybrid of art-making forms. And that list highlights just a few of the themes addressed in a multitude of creative ways.
A large floor map allowed visitors to “walk” over the city, but flagged places in the city that have a history of racial segregation. Social Stoops featured freestanding marble stoops from demolished homes and invited residents to sit on them to talk, much as they would do on the stoops in their neighborhoods, and a video montage let a diverse array of Baltimore residents tell their stories in their own words. A large interactive map overlaid parts of the city to reveal how the shocking statistics of social realities such as unemployment, under-education, and housing foreclosures contrast in different areas of Baltimore. The Landscape of Opportunity model literally showed high points and low points of the city by physically vertically raising areas with positive ratings related to socio-economic factors like property values and employment and lowering areas with negative ratings. The contribution by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design reinterpreted the Life board game to account for factors like race, class, geographic location, and economic status in Baltimore. These and the many other projects, essays, and events that made up Baltimore: Open City generated tremendous interest from print, broadcast, and online media outlets. In addition to the exhibition, the project included panel discussions, workshops, receptions, and other events around the city.