Sowebo arts festival takes its inspiration from the streets

Twisted wire jewelry and a collage made of old shoes among the displays at event

May 28, 2007|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun Reporter

The heavy aroma of incense, funnel cake and fresh paint permeated the streets of Southwest Baltimore yesterday for the 22nd annual Sowebohemian Arts and Music Festival.

But it was mostly art that was the order of the day with an eclectic array of creators - such as a whimsical Baltimore hon with a beehive hairdo who was selling painted light switch plates.

A local artist showed a collage made of old tennis shoes, and jewelers who twisted wires displayed their latest designs on the pavement.

"This year, we decided to concentrate on street art," said Jeanne Kemp, one of the festival coordinators. "In Baltimore, there's not a lot of street art. It's not like New York, where it's everywhere. So we wanted to do something where people of all ages can participate."

Sowebo Arts Inc., a nonprofit arts group, organizes the festival. Its coordinators pitched a "graffiti tunnel" - a makeshift tent made of sheer plastic sheets on which people were invited to scribble and doodle using marker pens.

Hollins Street became an artistic playground, where children could construct a foam mask, weave a jump rope and paint an old sail.

Kashaya Morante, a 12-year-old from the neighborhood, carefully penned "Rockstar" on a sail using pink paint.

"It's fun, because we get to run around and paint," she said.

"Yeah, you can be independent and do anything," added her friend Rhakhiyynca Shakir, 13, watching nearby.

Jack Trimper, a tutor and former city English teacher, said the festival began in the 1980s with the name Art in the Streets, with the purpose of giving local children an artistic outlet. Nearly 30 years ago, he opened "Street School," an artists' cooperative on Hollins Street where he invited neighborhood children to draw and make chalk art on the streets.

Yesterday, Trimper manned a booth where kids could paint strips of paper and have them twisted into colorful jump-ropes.

"Most art festivals don't have a venue of free art stuff for kids," Trimper said. He pointed to Hollins Street, where children sat on the pavement splashing paint on their canvases. "This dates back to my conception."

This year, festival organizers reduced the number of musical offerings, cutting back from four stages last year to two.

"We wanted to focus on the street art and make it more interactive instead of a big music show," said Kristen Faber, one of the organizers and a self-described Sowebo-ite. "We wanted to think of things that highlight the local artists and the local flavor."

Throngs of people examined the posters and paintings in the Sowebo Arts Gallery in the neighborhood's old public bath house - formerly home to a glass-blowing studio and gallery.

"Sowebo is light, fun and quirky," Kemp said. "It has a free-flowing quality where people are here to have fun."

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