Looking to History for the Answers: Urban Decay

Posted on July 27th, 2016 by

The infrastructure of a city often defines its residents and eventually its reputation. There are interesting exceptions to this, Baltimore being a prime example. Baltimore City is a city where everything changes every two blocks, sections of the city appear dilapidated row houses next to abandoned structures sometimes half demolished. These areas in Baltimore appear as if time has left the city behind, with the exception of the bright blue light emitted from the video camera installed atop the intersection. A short drive and a mile later expensive refurbished housing or preserved massive brownstone homes can be seen, people abuzz in green fairly cared for spaces with a notable lack of surveillance cameras, liquor stores and wandering homeless. Return west and there are entire blocks of homes that have been abandoned for years right next to an occupied home.

Yet Baltimore parades a different image of itself, a city boasting massive hospitals blazing a forefront in the medical world, Johns Hopkins, Medstar, Mercy and others. A city with a tourist friendly harbor with new businesses, local manufacturing and big names. Expensive waterfront property, large boats. What used to be immigrant neighborhoods and docks worked by various generations turned into areas desired by a new resurgent interest in younger generations of working class families seeking urban lifestyles. A twist as the children of families who left the city years ago through generations of rapid white flight return only to establish their own enclaves effectively gentrifying areas.

While this seems harmless initially the situation’s consequences are clear in a brief visit to West Baltimore. As the jobs become more exclusive and move elsewhere or are filled by new roles the already poor and disparaged neighborhoods further decline in essential areas. Public education, housing and maintenance, businesses that remain are small and locally owned as larger business move to the fringes of the city. As these poorer areas are alienated furthering an ‘Us vs Them’ attitude which broods and the melting pot that Baltimore stood as for generations quickly homogenizes.

Examples of urban decay are evident all over Baltimore, entire blocks of abandoned homes and structures.

Examples of urban decay are evident all over Baltimore, entire blocks of abandoned homes and structures.

Looking around I realize how many cues can be taken from history to help address this very real; problem. Recently I visited DC where we visited the National Library of Congress. They had an exhibit on the life of Jacob Riis, an American immigrant living in New York city. He noticed the squalor conditions the poor and immigrant families endured in the city encouraging him to document their struggles and improve the living conditions. A bold man who made friends that ascended to high places such as Theodore Roosevelt. I saw a lot of similarities between the disintegration of infrastructure and the consequences it had on New York at Jacob Riis’s time and the aging infrastructure of certain areas in Baltimore now. Water pipes in Baltimore are old, the harbor all though transformed is still suffering from pollution and years of neglect. The New York of Jacob Riis’s time was still experiencing a massive influx of immigrants, this is where the problem differs. Baltimore is experiencing an increase in people moving into the city in exclusive areas such as Canton, Harbor East and North Baltimore. The population enduring the declining living conditions has been here for generations.

A picture taken by Jacob Riis depicting the difficult living conditions as families living in New York at his time, multiple people often occupied a single room.

A picture taken by Jacob Riis depicting the difficult living conditions as families living in New York at his time, multiple people often occupied a single room.

As Baltimore moves to make a name for itself hopefully the gap stops widening as people invest more in the city as a whole rather than some exclusive areas. If history has shown us anything all it takes is one determined person willing to get their hands dirty and make connections. Jacob Riis’s legacy has taught us many things and his observations motivate decisions made today. A small example being his decisions to create public play areas for children to keep them out of trouble, this is especially relevant in Baltimore as public figures push for more of these communally accessible spaces for the youth.

A peaceful protest of local Baltimore citizens after the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots. A prime example of how concerned citizens can come together to address the problems the city faces today.

A peaceful protest of local Baltimore citizens after the death of Freddie Gray and the ensuing riots. A prime example of how concerned citizens can come together to address the problems the city faces today.

 CadeBlog post by Digital Projects Intern O. Cade Simon. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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Response: Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience

Posted on July 27th, 2016 by

Further thoughts on last week’s Intern Readings!

Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience by John H. Falk details the five types of museum visitors, facilitators, professionals/hobbyist, rechargers, explorers and experience seekers. I thought it was interesting to try and place myself in any of these categories and see how I fit in. I came to the conclusion that I am both an explorer and a professional/hobbyist depending on my mood.

As someone who has been a part of the art community for quite some time now, I tend to gravitate towards art museums. As an explorer, if the exhibit is too linear and too controlled I tend to get bored. Sometimes I feel like I have to read everything so when there is basic summaries before entering the exhibit I tend to get more out of it since I am able to apply what I just read to what I am seeing. I think Falk is correct in saying that explorers tend to arrive with a group, but then want to go off on their own, I feel I am the exact same way.

Being by myself in a museum allows for me to take my time and really appreciate what is in front of me, which leads me into how I fit into the Professional/ Hobbyist category. If I am in “art mode” then chances are I will want to stare at a piece of art for 10 minutes. I will want to jot down notes of random thoughts that pop into my mind about personal and symbolic associations that happen because of my connection with that piece. Moreover, I will more than likely want to sketch out what it is that I am seeing to better understand the piece, and I don’t think none-artists would like to stick around for that, so sometimes it is just easier to be alone. Being in art school has taught me the importance of discourse, which is why I enjoy discussing art more so with people who understand it.

With that being said, I also love talking about it with my non-artist friends, because they see things that I would’ve never seen. They make their own connections from their own knowledge base and it is always very interesting.

With that being said, I also love talking about it with my non-artist friends, because they see things that I would’ve never seen. They make their own connections from their own knowledge base and it is always very interesting.

Falk, has a good understanding of the different kinds of visitors that go to museums, and it was very interesting read about. I always thought that there was one way to visit a museum and that was to not read the labels and to just use your own interpretation and I think that stems from my traditional art school understanding, but I now see that there are many ways to enjoy an art museum, and you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate it.

06.06.2016 Interns (17)Blog post by Education and Programs Intern Rachel Morin. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

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The Ice Cream Centennial: Baltimore’s Coolest History

Posted on July 26th, 2016 by

As an exhibitions intern, much of my time here at the JMM has been spent digging through artifacts on PastPerfect, the digital database of the museum’s collections. While usually my searches are geared towards certain subjects, often I’ll come across unrelated items of interest. One such instance was coming across a collection of fabulous photographs celebrating the Ice Cream Centennial in Baltimore. As a hardcore ice cream lover (as well as a professional scooper) I needed to know more about this special celebration- and learned that Baltimore, believe it or not, is the birthplace of commercial ice cream production!

The hero behind this phenomenon was a Baltimore milkman named Jacob Fussell, a Quaker born in Hartford County. Fussell found that unlike milk, cream had a more unpredictable supply and demand, often leaving him with a surplus of the stuff. So he decided that, instead of disposing of the leftover cream as he’d been doing, he’d rather turn the cream into more profit by turning it into a new product: ice cream!

And so in 1851 Fussell opened the first commercial ice cream factory in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, shipping the sweet stuff to Baltimore via train. He became so successful that he opened more factories. The mass production lead to a cut in costs, making ice cream more easily affordable to the lower classes and establishing its popularity across class lines.

One hundred years later, and ice cream had become not just popular but beloved. A huge celebration was held to celebrate the anniversary, featuring a speech by Governor Theodore McKeldin, the unveiling of a plaque honoring Fussell, and ten thousand free cups of ice cream!!

That morning, Governor McKeldin signed the Ice Cream Proclamation, which declared June 15, 1951 to be National Ice Cream Day.

That morning, Governor McKeldin signed the Ice Cream Proclamation, which declared June 15, 1951 to be National Ice Cream Day.

As seen above, the celebration had a huge turn out!

As seen above, the celebration had a huge turn out!

Many local ice cream companies participated in distributing free ice cream…

Many local ice cream companies participated in distributing free ice cream…

…including Hendlers!

…including Hendlers!

Movie stars Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie were also special guests at the event, here pictured with Carrie Fussell Craft, Jacob Fussell’s then-84 year old daughter. They co-starred in the movie The Prince Who Was a Thief, which was released later that month.

Movie stars Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie were also special guests at the event, here pictured with Carrie Fussell Craft, Jacob Fussell’s then-84 year old daughter. They co-starred in the movie The Prince Who Was a Thief, which was released later that month.

As a person with a passion for ice cream, I am happy to know that its wholesaling got the party it deserved, and hope that come 2051, the bicentennial will be celebrated with just as much fervor- and, of course, free ice cream!

While ice cream goes back way further than 1851, without Jacob Fussell and his Baltimore business, ice cream may not have become the world’s favorite dessert!

While ice cream goes back way further than 1851, without Jacob Fussell and his Baltimore business, ice cream may not have become the world’s favorite dessert!

Sources:

Funderburg, Anne Cooper. Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State U Popular, 1995. Print.

“Ice Cream Centennial Observed in Baltimore.” Reading Eagle 15 June 1951: 19. Print.

Thomas, Robert Bailey. “The History of Ice Cream.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2004. Boston: Jenks, Palmer, 1984. N. pag. Print.

All photos courtesy of the JMM.

emilia blog 2 picPost by Exhibitions Intern Emilia Halvorsen. To read  more posts by and about interns click HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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