Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA as we have donned it, sits nestled into Bolton Hill, lying at the spitting mouth of I-83. The MICA Bubble is a staple phrase before I even entered my second semester. I remember walking down and up Baltimore. Not the first time or last Saturday, but a combination of first days, cold days, Mondays, and sunny days all jumbled together. There are last week I walked here, and this morning I walked down there, and a good couple of last nights I stumbled back from her place.
There were spaces and places that have taken me dozens of walks to get to know. Starting from the epicenter that is MICA and branching out into Baltimore City. We are technically living on an open-campus. Everyday we are exposed to the world around us, and why wouldn’t we be? We are ostensibly artist. We are artists when we step foot into Founders Green on McMechen Street. I came from a different place. I am a transplant here in Baltimore. I came to Baltimore for college, with the pre-emptive understanding that it was stepping stone to larger, bigger, more bustling cities. Now, moving into my senior year of college I have no idea where the hell I am going or doing. Baltimore seems like a great place for people in that position.
Sometimes someone came with me on the adventure, we’re always encouraged to walk in more than pairs. That mentality doesn’t always last; other times I’m alone. I look around Baltimore a lot. Both the Baltimore that was advertised and the Baltimore that I only observe through sensationalized media and nervous walks down MLK. This was before I began to learn about Baltimore, the city’s people and their neighborhoods.
I once mentioned the term ‘community engagement’ to an older woman, and she bluntly asked, “what does that even mean?”. Explaining it to her, I knew the language surrounding it only applied to a specific space inside a particular type of place. Working within Baltimore community is a challenge.There really isn’t another way I could put it, so directly, into words. And I’ve been warned against coming across too didactic. My experiences with Baltimore have been guided through MICA’s aesthetically crafted lenses, or Baltimore Collegetown LeaderShape’s humbling adventures, and classes offered at MICA under the umbrella of social practice. However enlightening an experience each of these were, my walks throughout the city have been more important to me. My walks landed me on the outside of a city I live inside of.
Awareness surrounds me when I leave the house. I lock the door behind me and I begin my way wherever I happen to be headed that day. Headphones or not, but headphones more often than not. These little pieces of technology can change my entire experience. With headphones, escapism runs rampant. Without headphones, all senses are engaged and alert.
I think that’s where the difference between perception and observing rests. I feel like when I see things I can still ignore them, because if sight is the only affirming sense, the others aren’t all that interested. But, but… when I am paying attention and I can see and hear Baltimore around me I have no choice but to truly pay attention. This may sound a tad too existential, but the most effective community engagement I’ve ever really partaken in, in my opinion, is being in Baltimore and giving it my attention.
This piece was featured in Maria Garcia's zine, "Out of the Bubble" in August 2016.