By Susan Seifried
More Than a Pretty Picture – Public Art in Annapolis
What follows is a brief introduction to some of the many Annapolis artists and art enthusiasts who are giving back to the community – not only by creating beautiful works of art and inspiration, but by enlisting the help of others and showing them how they can do the same.
Photographer Kirsten Elstner launched VisionWorkshops in Annapolis in 2001. After working primarily for the New York Times, the International Red Cross and as a photography assistant for National Geographic, she decided to put cameras into the hands of the individuals whose lives she was trying to document and let them tell their own stories. With offices at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis’s Arts and Entertainment District, VisionWorkshops is the creative force behind a series of photography workshops for youth from underserved communities around the world.
Annapolis photographer Alison Harbaugh taught photography to youth from underserved areas with VisionWorkshops for about ten years before she launched her own photography workshops, “Fearless Girls Photography” in 2015. Harbaugh owns Sugar Farm Productions, a photography and video production company that she operates out of her Art Farm storefront at 45 West Street in downtown Annapolis.
In summer 2016, Annapolis artist Jeff Huntington and his wife, Julia Gibb, created the nonprofit organization, “Future History Now,” that works with underserved youth to create street art in their communities. Former VisionWorkshops student, Newtowne 20 resident, and local community leader Deonte Ward has introduced Huntington to his neighbors so the artist can work with them to turn empty boarded up buildings into beautiful works of art. As he’s done with youth from other underserved neighborhoods, Huntington brings them into his Jahru Studio, using it as a satellite incubator for the arts projects.
Annapolis resident Roberta Pardo founded Urban Walls Brazil in 2014. Initially, she brought artists from her native country of Brazil to Annapolis to create public murals. Today’s expanded program includes artists from all over the world in an international cultural exchange. To date, Urban Walls Brazil artists have painted 12 murals in Annapolis’s Design District, and Pardo is plans to have two additional murals painted in summer 2018.
Art at Large owner, Sally Wern Comport, has been an illustrator all her life. She began working in her father’s advertising agency at the age of 15. After working for thirty years as an illustrator, Comport created Art at Large in 2003. As the name implies, she was thinking big. She was no longer content with designing her work to fit in magazines and books and on billboards. Instead, she began creating custom illustrations for walls. “I love materials, surfaces, architecture – all of the stuff that fuels material, tangible art. I started thinking in terms of murals.”
In 2007, Comport and others launched a public arts initiative, Annapolis Artwalk, to bring grand scale art to the exterior walls of buildings – using the City of Annapolis as an open-air gallery. In 2008, the nonprofit organization received a grant to install public art around the City for Annapolis’s Charter 300 celebration.
Comport calls her work community engagement art. “It’s a marriage of the architecture, where it’s located, the community, the people – their art or their input about what they envision – and my design. It’s all these things working in concert. Visual communication is about digesting the input and conveying the heart of what the communication is, without having to say a word. One of the biggest challenges – and the most fun – is marrying all the pieces to convey one clear message. It builds bridges between groups. People ‘get’ each other through visual communication. Much like music, it’s barrier free. It’s a visual voice. It’s the one thing I can do to help make the world a better place.”
The citywide Second Annual Annapolis Arts Week, June 1-10, will provide an introduction to the work and lives of some of the many individuals who contribute to Annapolis’s thriving arts and entertainment scene