SchoolArts Magazine

November 2017

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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SCHOOLARTSMAGAZINE.COM 23 Art and Social Change N E T H E R B A LT I M O R E - B A S E D S T R E E T A R T I S T L O O K I N G & L E A R N I N G W hat better way to draw attention to a blighted and neglected urban neighborhood than cover- ing abandoned buildings with art? This is espe- cially true when there is community participa- tion in the project. This is the driving force behind the artwork of Nether, a Baltimore-born public artist. In his murals, wheatpastes, and fine art prints, Nether focuses attention locally on the nationwide problems of disin- tegrating infrastructure and abandoned neighborhoods, police violence, and racial equality. Raising Awareness Nether is the founder and curator of Wall Hunters: Slum- lord Project. The project began in 2013 using art—murals and paste-ups—attached to abandoned buildings in neglected neighborhoods of Baltimore where slumlords allow the neighborhoods to decline. In the project, Nether pairs street artists with vacant buildings. S ince the institution of the project and the social justice dialogue it encouraged, several abandoned buildings have been demolished. Aside from this ongoing project, Nether is also involved in a number of art outreach projects meant to draw the interest of the art establishment. It is hoped that the art establishment will not only encourage the public art initiative, but that it will also encourage a new diversity in what gets shown in galleries, and help raise awareness of the positive results of public art. O n his initial contact with a neighborhood in which he wants to execute a public art project, Nether approaches the residents with the attitude of a guest. He engages the community in dialogue on often difficult-to-discuss issues and his resulting artwork reflects ideas he receives from the dialogue with the residents. He makes his mural projects fluid so that they can grow and change from encounters with neighborhood people. Nether's work also spotlights the historical character of urban neighborhoods that have been wiped away by developers. Preservation, Commemoration, Memory With the exception of political cartoonists Honoré Daumier (1808–1879, France) and Thomas Nast (1840– 1902, US) in the 1800s, the idea of "social justice art" is really a phenomenon of the late 1900s. The mural move- ments of the late 1960s and 1970s in American cities had their foundations in the photography of Lewis Hine (1870–1940), the artists of the Harlem Renaissance (ca. 1920–1930s), the Mexican mural movement (1920s on), and the Feminist Art Movement of the 1970s. Nether's public art is closest in spirit to the mural movement that took place in major American cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles in the late 1960s and 1970s. That movement, like Nether's Wall Hunters: Slumlord Project, sought not only to pinpoint social injustice in urban America, but also to involve the community in the creation of art that ultimately uplifts and beautifies the neighborhoods in which the murals are executed. The goals are the same: preservation, com - memoration, and memory. Nether, Unknown Bureaucrat, North Washington Street by East Preston Street, Baltimore. 17,' wheatpaste. References the Icelandic sculpture Memorial to the Unknown Bureaucrat in the context of urban renewal in Baltimore. Courtesy of the artist.

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