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Volume 16, Issue 9 - February 28 - March 5, 2008

Finding a New Way

Artwalk’s newest public mural rises after a long journey across the street

by Carrie Madren, Bay Weekly staff writer

The image of a black man clenching a just-broken chain wasn’t meant to be controversial. Annapolis artist Lassie Belt created it not to dwell on Annapolis’ legacy of slavery but to illustrate how freedom comes from breaking bonds of all kinds — from drugs to illness to failing marriage.

Still, the montages called Community Rising — the fifth of ArtWalk’s six outdoor murals raised in honor of Annapolis’ Charter 300 celebration — were not welcome on Anne Arundel County’s Arundel Center.

“The picture hadn’t even gone up yet, but there were very powerful reactions,” says ArtWalk artistic director Sally Comport. The ArtWalk piece inspired spirited debate on issues ranging from race and segregation to County Executive John Leopold’s refusal of Arundel Center as a canvas for controversial public art.

“We’re not just making pretty pictures,” Comport says. “Art is a powerful tool that can create discussions.”

Now the five-mural collection created by Belt and his young students at Stanton Community Center has a home across the street from the Arundel Center. House Speaker Michael Busch and Sen. John Astle helped negotiate an invitation from the state-owned Attman Glazer Building.

Comport created the five digital montages by punctuating Belt’s images with artwork by 20 of his students.

Four of the five rectangular murals bear stars, stripes, crossland arms or parallelograms from the American and Maryland flags; all are overlayed with portraits and faces drawn by local children. The smallest features a handprint half black and half white. The largest is Belt’s illustration of a man breaking a chain beside the Annapolis skyline; the man’s expression conveys relief, freedom after tribulation.

“Chains of bondage have to be broken so that people can have a happier, productive life,” says Belt, who grew up in the Clay Street community before moving away to find his fortune. He returned to his childhood neighborhood to help others.

Young artists ages five through 14 drew mostly portraits and faces, as well as images important to them; some included text messages such as express your love your child feels invisible.

Located at the intersection of Clay and Calvert streets, the public artwork is adjacent to the Clay Street community and visible from the community’s school bus stop and to traffic traveling north on Calvert Street from West Street.

“Kids can look up on the wall and say, I did that. I am somebody,” Belt says.

Applaud the long journey of this fifth ArtWalk installation at the opening ceremony on Fri., Feb. 29, 3pm at the Stanton Center, 92 West Washington St., Annapolis. After remarks, everyone proceeds to the Attman Glazer building: 410-268-2701.

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