Four years ago, Beth Barbush, an artist and community activist in Baltimore, Maryland, started gathering neighborhood children on her porch to do arts and crafts projects. The occasional meetings soon turned into a weekly get-together called “Porch Art”. Today the program is one of the largest and longest-running art programs in Remington - one of Baltimore’s historic but crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Porch Art started in the summer of 2007, with just a few art supplies from Beth Barbush’s basement … several children bored with summer vacation … and a lot of enthusiasm.
“I started by doing it one night a week, an hour-and-a-half a week, just hanging out with kids and it really benefited me because I got to know the people here and I think it benefited them because it gave the kids something to do,” Barbush said.
The meetings soon moved from Beth’s porch to the sidewalk near her Baltimore home - where the children explore a new art form every week. This day’s project is print calligraphy - but they have also dabbled in painting, sculpture and drawing. Anyone who does not feel “artsy” can do sidewalk chalk or play with a hula hoop.
“Every week we do something cool and interesting that I want to do," said middle school student Toha Mohamed. "We do arts and crafts; we put things together, glue stuff so that’s why I want to come.”
The art projects are taught by various guest artists and local volunteers. Among them, many parents who join soon after their children do. Catherine Bear is the mother of a Porch Art child and says the program is about community building and trust.
“My child gets to do something one day out of the week, something that she wouldn’t do any other day and she gets to spend time with other kids and do art," she said.
Today’s meeting is also the kick-off of a music tour. Local musicians volunteer to play instruments while the children do their art projects. Jason Reed says the program makes a difference in the neighborhood.
“Having a bunch of houses crammed together, close doesn’t make a community and its things like this that do," he said. "I am not going to say this reduces crime and saves life but none of these people would steal from each other, none of these people would hurt each other, so there is a sense of caring and responsibility and that can’t be underestimated.”
The program is run without any outside financial support; most of the art supplies are donated or bought by local volunteers.
“Anyone can do this. You can do it with whatever skills you have," Beth Barbush. "If you want to do it with music, cooking, if you want to do it with theater or art or gardening. I think it’s an example for others that anyone can start a program like this."
Beth Barbush says “Porch Art” changed her whole life in Baltimore. This is the first time she has known all her neighbors by name and the only time she has truly felt part of a community.