Using art to give youths an outlet

Motivation: To Tony Shore, helping kids in Morrell Park and Pigtown amounts to leading them down their own creative paths.

October 18, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

After a day of painting a street mural on a deserted block in Pigtown, a juvenile confided in artist Tony Shore that he hadn't gotten high in four days.

"Well, Mr. Tony, that's another day you kept me out of trouble," said the budding artist.

Moments like that, Shore said, motivate him to help kids in two of the city's most run-down areas paint swaths of their neighborhoods.

You can see their work in Pigtown and Morrell Park, on walls, boarded-up houses, portable classrooms, a police station, a truck and fish sculptures.

Shore, 29, a former street artist from Morrell Park who was arrested for graffiti as a youth, said he hopes to provide youths a creative outlet. "Kids are doing graffiti to get recognized and respect from friends," he said. "I'm trying to give kids another way to do that."

He found out how to channel his drawing urges in high school at Baltimore School for the Arts, then got a scholarship to Maryland Institute College of Art. He went to graduate school at Yale and is known for his large works on black velvet.

About a year and a half ago, he formed a nonprofit art center called Access Art for kids. He is working off of small private donations and a $48,500 grant from the Open Society Institute, an international foundation that supports education and community-based programs.

Access Art, which has been operating out of neighborhood centers in Pigtown for the past year, is about to get a home in the former Morrell Park library in the 2400 block of Washington Blvd.

It will have a youth-run gallery, classroom space, a computer lab, dark room and a studio for the resident artist, Shawn James, 27, a Baltimore elementary school teacher and graduate student at Maryland Institute. The gallery, expected to be the only one of its kind in either neighborhood, is to open in late fall or early winter.

Contractors have agreed to donate up to $10,000 in labor for the library renovations.

"Kids need a different perspective of art, not just school," said James. "When you're in school, things get pretty structured and you're bound to a curriculum. It's hard to explore."

Shore, who teaches at Maryland Institute, said that when he first started working with kids his focus was to recognize and develop young talent. Then he realized it's about leading kids down their own paths.

When Mike Harmon, 14, got kicked out of school for fighting, he started working with Shore on murals. After a few weeks, Shore wrote a letter to the school explaining how productive Mike had been, and the school accepted Mike back. "He's been an inspiration to me since I met him," the teen-ager said. "Before I met Tony, I didn't know two things about painting. He taught me everything I know. He paints the hard parts and lets us do the rest and take the credit for it."

Shore first interested the kids in his projects in June of last year when they painted a mural on 14 walls at Morrell Park Elementary, where he had attended school.

"I met a bunch of kids in Morrell Park, and they were totally into it," he said. "I brought my graffiti notebook, and I got immediate respect. Every day, I worked with the kids, and we pulled it off."

Since then, every time he starts a project, he gets the word out and kids show up ready for work. He also encourages them to come up with creative ideas and helps them execute projects.

One project they painted together was at a benefit at the Walters Art Museum. It sold for $400 the night they painted it. All the money they earn goes back into the program, Shore said.

While he prefers to do high-profile work, he also enjoys doing small murals, such as the one in the middle of tiny Mangold Street in Pigtown that warns of the dangers of lead paint. "Who's to say people back here don't deserve a mural, too?" Shore said.

Drive around Pigtown or Morrell Park and it's almost impossible to miss Access Art's work. That helps keep the community together, said Chris Ryer, executive director of the Washington Village Pigtown Neighborhood Planning Council.

"It gives the kids something to talk about and rally around," Ryer said. "It shows them somebody cares about the neighborhood."

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