Exhibit Gives Voice To East Side Neighborhood

April 26, 2009|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,tim.smith@baltsun.com

The patchwork of Baltimore's neighborhoods includes an area that is itself an amalgam of diverse cultures, a place affected in many ways by the city's development - the east side. Blacks, whites and Latinos have all been a part of its story. Italian, Greek and Ukrainian cultural traditions are among the variety that have flourished here.

Change is a constant factor on the east side, too, as the expanding medical campus of the Johns Hopkins University drives home in our day.

Out of this history comes East Side Stories: Portraits of a Baltimore Neighborhood, Then and Now, a photography exhibit that opened Saturday at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.

"We wanted to show what makes the east side special, what is unique about its history," says Michelle Joan Wilkinson, director of collections and exhibitions at the Lewis Museum. "The exhibit will look at different angles of the east side."

Those angles will come from more than 100 photographs. Although early 20th-century glimpses of the neighborhood are included, the emphasis will be mostly on the past decade.

"The idea for the exhibit came out of conversations with photographers who were already working on projects about the east side," Wilkinson says. They include Elizabeth Barbush, Michela Caudill, Ellis L. Marsalis III and Ken Royster.

"The exhibit will show a couple of other communities that call east side home, including the white Canton homeowner washing the front step," Wilkinson says, "but the museum's mission is to focus on Maryland's African-American culture."

In this case, that mission will be served by drawing particular attention to a stretch of the east side known as the Middle East, an impoverished, mostly African-American enclave deeply affected by urban development in recent years.

Barbush, program director of the nonprofit organization Art on Purpose, has been engaged in a project about those blocks, a project called "Speaking of Silence in Middle East Baltimore." The result is a book of photographs and audio stories that will be published next month.

"Photographs from the book and some of the audio pieces will be at the Lewis," Barbush says. "The goal is to really bring to the surface voices of people displaced, their stories of how their neighborhood is being demolished. Most of the time, these voices are heard only through a media lens as a news story."

In addition to the exhibit, which runs through July 26, there will be various supplemental programs over the weeks ahead, including lectures, a film and a children's story hour. And there will be a Community Day on May 9; east-side residents will receive invitations for free admission that day.

"Geographically speaking, the east side was the beginning of Baltimore," Wilkinson says. "People landed here and often settled here. It was also a place for change. My hope is that people will learn something they didn't know from the exhibit, and also see what's happening in the present with a more historical perspective."

if you go

East Side Stories: Portraits of a Baltimore Neighborhood will be on exhibit until July 26 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, 830 E. Pratt St. Museum admission is $6-$8. Call 443-263-1800 or go to africanamericanculture.org.

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