Can love change the world? Most people might say yes. But can art change the world? And can a graphic painting with a love message on walls change the world? Michael Owen and Scott Burkholder believe it can…at least in a small way.
It’s a simple concept.
Artist Michael Owen has designed a graphic of hands spelling out the word “love.” The plan is to paint this on walls in communities around Baltimore City and to connect people through these love-themed murals.
It’s called the Baltimore Love Project.
The design is already in two places: Mount Washington Arboretum and Carroll Park/ Gwynns Falls Trail. The project needs funding for 18 more love murals in Baltimore that will be identical but range in size depending on the space.
I originally met Scott Burkholder at Watermark Gallery and learned that he is working with Michael on networking and fund raising for the Baltimore Love Project. In an age of youthful cynicism, I was fascinated by their idealism.
The two men originally connected through painting of a different kind. After graduating from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), Michael worked for Scott in his interior painting business. Besides making money painting walls of houses, schools and businesses—in solid colors—Michael hoped he would gain some mural clients. However, it proved useful in another way. “My biggest gain was learning how to most efficiently cover a large wall. It was like my Jedi training,” says Owen. You can see some of Michael’s murals at his web site.
The friends kept in touch and later, when Michael told Scott about his vision of the Baltimore Love Project, Scott became involved from a business angle.
Scott says, “The Baltimore Love Project was the perfect opportunity for us to unite, Michael in a creative role and me in a business role. Our skill sets and personalities match well. Because we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we are able to execute quite proficiently.”
It’s not making them money so why are they doing it?
For Scott, it’s about relationships. “I am involved with this project because relationships are something that I value highly, and love is critical to successfully experience relationships. I am involved because we don’t necessary want to change the world, only to inspire it in small ways.
It’s also about using his business skills. “The project brings me joy as it fulfills my desire to use my skills in a significant and meaningful way. Over time I have realized that I enjoy entrepreneurship and business. I like analysis, I like strategic development, I like to build relationships and I like innovation. This project allows me to do all that, and all for a good cause—promoting love through art.”
Michael admits that he had “no divine moment I recall where the image from The Baltimore Love Project came to me.” He wanted to incorporate his more personal studio themes into public murals. “Then I began to see the possible repercussions this project might have on others. What if some guy saw a love wall on the way home from work? What if he smiled a bit and decided to pick up some flowers for his girlfriend? What if a mom saw one when pushing her kid home in a stroller? What if she didn’t hit the child for that one night? These are small acts of love that can be inspired by these murals. Last week the project flashed through my mind when arguing with my own wife. I can’t say it resolved the issue, but I did feel more compassion for her. To me, these incidents of love mark the success of the Baltimore Love Project.”
You can watch an interview with Michael Owen here:
Neither of the friends is native to Baltimore, but they both want to create something positive in the city that they’ve grown to like. Scott came to Baltimore as an engineering student at the Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and when he graduated, he remained in Baltimore as a lab technician at Hopkins. Recognizing the lack of relationships in science, he started a painting business as a transition to whatever lies in his future role of promoting art. He likes the people and diversity in Baltimore and sees it as a place to discover and get to know many more people. “I have only begun my Baltimore adventure,” he says.
Michael, too, came to Baltimore as a student– at MICA in 2000. At first he didn’t like the area and felt disconnected but an assignment in one of his classes drew him out to other areas and he began to see the city in a new way. Michael explains, “Marcel Proust said that ‘the real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes’. Baltimore is not palm trees and dolphins kissing as they jump toward the sunset, [Michael is from Orlando] but I latched onto a brokenness in the city that resounded in myself and from there into my art. Peel back the makeup and ego, it is in us all.”
These two young men with a vision, one an artist and the other a businessman, might just be able to pull this off because there is power in art. I know this personally from an Edward Weston photograph I saw years ago. It was a black and white close-up of a green pepper. He photographed it in such a sensuous way that I was never able to look at a green pepper in the same way ever again.
© Edward Weston estate, 1930
Simon Schama, author and speaker, says, “The power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we don’t look at a face, a color, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again. We get fitted with new sight: in-sight. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are part of that process, but so too may be shock, pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. That kind of art seems to have rewired our senses. We apprehend the world differently.”
You can see a a BBC broadcast below:
Remember the iconic newspaper photograph that Nick Ut (AP) took in 1972 of Phan Thị Kim Phúc at age nine running naked through the streets after being severely burned by a napalm attack? Or the photo taken by Eddie Adams (AP) in 1968 of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong soldier? These two photos would become become two of the most famous images in journalism that would change the American public’s views on the Vietnam War. Images can change the world.
There are other projects going on that seek to connect people through public art. One is the Dialogue Project which brings to cities installations consisting of ten, 7×8-foot free-standing screens covered with thousands of inspiring and insightful quotations from people throughout history.
Again, the question, can art change the world or change a community? Does public art have power? Can two young men with a vision make a difference? If you believe in possibilities and would like to help, you can purchase a T-shirt with the love logo. Proceeds will go to help the project.
The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. John Berger, author/art critic