Sidewalk art tiles reflect community

Pictures by students in Fells Point focus on Latino community

May 23, 1999|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

At first glance, the brightly painted tiles are just another after-school art project. But mortared into the sidewalk of Fells Point's small Latino business district, the ceramic squares mark a growing community's efforts to stake out a spot in Baltimore's cultural mix.

"It's a chance to present ourselves to the Baltimore community," artist Angelica Pozo said yesterday, as she and a group of Latino schoolchildren unveiled a series of hand-painted "tree surrounds" on South Broadway.

"Hearing that the community is not very visible, I especially wanted a permanent piece out in public for viewing, rather than in the lobby of some building," said Pozo, who came from Cleveland to tutor the Baltimore youngsters.

The result: a block of South Broadway adorned with faces, maps and still lifes that speak to Hispanic heritage, all painted in vivid oranges and azures. The tiles -- set along the perimeter of squares cut out of the sidewalk for trees -- are part of a program dubbed "Mi Alma Latina," Spanish for "My Latin Soul."

The program is a joint project by Education Based Latino Outreach (EBLO), a cultural program for Hispanic youngsters, and Baltimore Clayworks, a nonprofit art center that organizes community programs. About 18 students, some as young as 10, began working on the project last fall.

"We want to be a part of helping all people celebrate their cultural identity," said Deborah Bedwell, director of Baltimore Clayworks.

In a line of tiles labeled "Mi Gente" (My People), 14-year-old William Mejia painted a self-portrait -- and added a mustache. "I wanted to look kind of grown," he said.

In the line titled "Mi musica," 13-year-old Doralee Calderon painted numbered footprints, the kind used by dance instructors. Her work was labeled, "Cha cha cha."

Vanessa Sabastro, 15, painted her grandmother and great-grandfather. To her, a nod to her ancestry was a way to show everyone "what we're about."

Other tiles showed maps and flags of homelands such as Cuba and Ecuador, and favorite foods such as guava and enchiladas.

"Some people might look at them and say, `What's that?' " said Luis Simbala, 16, of Highlandtown. "It just raises the presence of the Latino culture."

On Broadway, Javier Bustamante, publisher of a Spanish language magazine and a board member of EBLO, said the tiles fit well with the growing number of storefronts with Latino names.

"This is our barrio [neighborhood]," said Bustamante.

Pub Date: 5/23/99

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