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Baltimore Hush Harbor Blog


Hush Harbors were spaces where enslaved Africans in America had covert meetings to plan escapes, organize revolts, reaffirm and engage in (re)membrance. A hush harbor is not only a place, it is a "conceptual metaphor" (Levine, 1997).

The thoughts, ideas and ponderings of Youth Resiliency Institute cultural organizers, parents, advisory board members and supporters are offered to stimulate cross-generational cultural (re)membrance, spiritual/bodily healing, celebration, action and knowledge.
Baltimore Hush Harbor Blogs




Is Art Only For The Elite In Baltimore City?

The Youth Resiliency Institute's Executive Director poses important questions
about equitable funding and access to the arts in Baltimore City.

 

Arts Handcuffed
Photo by Amira Bey / Photo concept by Fanon Hill

By Fanon Hill
June, 2013

 

"For these are all our children.

We will all profit by, or pay for,

whatever they become."

  James Baldwin

 


When the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released its "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change" report in 2011, just over a year had passed since Cherry Hill artist and youth leader Angelo Dangerfield had been murdered. His death highlighted the findings of the report, which details the mismatch between the priorities and strategies of foundations that give to the arts and the needs of our communities. Angelo was shot in the early morning, just steps from his home while walking his dog; however, Baltimore Police Department closed-circuit surveillance cameras failed to capture the killer of one of the city's brightest visionaries. Instead, they captured the all too familiar images of what high unemployment, low-quality housing, and the lack of recreational opportunities for children and youth looks like in disinvested Baltimore neighborhoods.


Like all great artists, Angelo's legacy is cemented by his vision. In Cherry Hill Public Homes today, children and youth speak his name with an exalted reverence. They understand the self-determining power of honoring icons and symbols born out of one's own communal experience.


In order to know Angelo Dangerfield, one must know the history of Cherry Hill. Established in 1945, the Cherry Hill community was founded as a home for returning African American World War II veterans. Historically, Cherry Hill has produced political leaders, lawyers, doctors, ministers, and creative, hard-working, educators. However, today, the majority of Cherry Hill's residents experience dehumanizing levels of poverty, inadequate health care, and a lack of positive youth development opportunities for children and youth.

 

 

At the time of his death, Angelo was the latest in a long line of young artists of color brutalized by inequitable access to the arts in Baltimore City. As a young Black artist, Angelo worked to secure artistic consciousness around the recognition of identity, cultural memory, and place.


Through emancipatory remembrance, Angelo established a context to separate from dominant structures and ideology in Baltimore that buttressed the idea of art as the domain of Baltimore's elite. This ideology was reinforced by the not so distant memory of slave ships built by Baltimore shipbuilders fifteen miles from his community during the spring and summer of 1839. Like abolitionists of all colors who rebelled against the sinister system that financed and abetted the construction of slave ships in their time, Angelo rebelled against the very same system that worked to dehumanize him in his art community.


For Angelo, being expected to "sing his song in a strange land" – a land that has been traditionally uninterested in helping children and youth comprehend the poverty into which they have been born, nor ways they can emancipate themselves from it-- was to sanction and promote the structural and institutional inequality facing young Black artists living in high-poverty Baltimore neighborhoods. He understood that to participate in art programs predominately led by executive directors and board members who don't reflect his cultural background was to corroborate a vision for Baltimore's art sector that excluded children and youth like him. To accept an unwritten compact that forced him to take multiple buses to another neighborhood to create art that didn't benefit his own immediate neighborhood was to dishonor the lineage from whence he came. He knew that in Baltimore--where, for most Black folk, "doing well" meant being able to afford a MTA public transportation day pass and where most Black folk couldn't afford their own funeral--the creation of art in one's own community served as a powerful tool to reestablish community based structures of knowledge, economic power, remembrance and embodiment.


 



"Angelo Dangerfield" by youth artist Edoh Akwei (Togo, West Africa)

 

 

Much like historian John Henrik Clarke, Angelo knew that the leadership in one point in time is inadequate for another period in history. He exercised this knowledge to amplify youth voice through creation of fresh symbols and metaphors in poetry, plays and music that rendered him visible in a city that too often views Black children and youth as second class citizens. He recognized that art from canons outside of the European tradition needs equal recognition and support in Baltimore. The alarming findings of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy's "Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change" report discovered that the more a foundation is focused on giving to the arts, the less likely it is to prioritize supporting artistic traditions from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and Native American tribal cultures. Angelo understood that this system would continue to brutally diminish opportunities and cultural nourishment for aspiring artists such as the young Black girl in Walbrook Junction with the artistic magnificence to become Baltimore-born fashion designer Januwa Moja. He knew that until funding for art reaches children and youth who have the least access to it, opportunities would also diminish for the poor white child in Hampden to be exposed to the powerful tradition of the Arena Players or the Eubie Blake Center. Currently, only ten percent of grant dollars to support the arts (such as visual arts, performing arts and museums) explicitly benefits the poor, ethnic and racial minorities and the elderly. Angelo understood that until audiences had access to works in all the classical traditions, the young Latino immigrant in East Baltimore would not be introduced to the tremendous impact that Jose Ruiz has had on the cultural development of Baltimore City.


The question of equitable funding and access to the arts in Baltimore is not just a matter for deliberation. It is a matter of life and death for children and youth who take residency at the intersection of "Highways to Nowhere" that displace and dislocate--not only in West Baltimore, but in every neighborhood where children and youth are excluded from Baltimore's art sector.


To be sure, the implication of Angelo's legacy lives beyond the realm of art and the aesthetics of remembrance. As a theoretical intervention, his art laid the foundation for a theory of youth policy for Black children and youth. Yet, it was undergirded by narratives of brutal systemic oppression, as well as fierce multi-generational family engagement that resisted oppression. It was also undergirded by community-based self-determination that worked to uproot hegemonic boundaries in Baltimore City by forcing recognition of the critical relation between youth agency and employability skills through the arts for children and youth battered by economic inequality.



Photo by Amira Bey/Photo concept by Fanon Hill

Today, Angelo's legacy draws attention to the need for rigorous exploration of culturally responsive constructs for children and youth of color living in high-poverty communities. His vision also points us in the direction of liberatory art-based best practices that challenge us to free ourselves from the idea of arts and culture as solely happening in museums, universities, opera houses and concert halls.
A few examples include:


The Youth Arts Harvest Initiative, a multilingual initiative that works to enhance the visibility, artistic vibrancy and sustainability of Baltimore-based youth artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The Native American After School Art Program (NAASAP), an after school art program that works to lift up the voices of Baltimore's Native American youth as they are empowered to work creatively toward real goals.

CultureWorks, an organization that celebrates local artists and builds resilient urban communities through art and culture.

Education Based Latino Outreach (EBLO) an organization established in 1980 for the purpose of improving the lives of Hispanic youth and their families through educational opportunities and cultural programs.

WombWorks, a fully comprehensive production company that preserves and re-empowers families and communities through creative art, dance and theater expression.

 

In Baltimore today, we have an opportunity to forward the vision of Angelo Dangerfield and artists from all cultural backgrounds who worked tirelessly to construct a stronger city through the fight for equitable funding and access to the arts in Baltimore City. The health of our beloved city is inextricably tied to whether or not we collectively further their vision and efforts through strategic, coordinated action.

This essay is dedicated to one-year-old Carter Scott who was killed in Cherry Hill in May 2013.


Learn about how Angelo Dangerfield's legacy is being honored through A Dream In Cherry Hill cultural arts leadership camp.

 


Fanon Hill - PicFanon Hill serves as Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Youth Resiliency Institute. He is a musician, youth development specialist and cultural organizer. Hill also serves as the community practice lead for the National Rites of Passage Institute and is a Case Western Reserve University Treu- Mart Youth Development Fellow. He has served as a consultant for the W.K. Kellogg's Foundation, the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, Heinz Endowments and a multitude of national agencies focusing on positive youth development for children and youth of color, community-based arts education, and equitable community organizing. Currently, Hill serves as co-investigator of Strong Art Strong Youth an investigation on the challenges and opportunities facing youth arts practitioners in Baltimore City. He is also author of the forthcoming book, "The Autobiography of 1001 Baltimore Youth: Organizing With Black Youth In The Valley of Dry Bones". He is happily married.

Fanon@youthresiliencyinstitute.org


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The Youth Resiliency Institute is a program under the umbrella of Fusion Partnerships, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in the state of Maryland. The Youth Resiliency Institute is dedicated to inspiring realization of the authentic self in children, youth and young adults in Baltimore. We encourage and support authentic living in the service of just, joyful and sustainable communities.