Showcasing the cherished connections between Druid Hill Park and surrounding neighborhoods, the Arches & Access project illuminated and activated the historic Druid Hill Park Gate at Madison Avenue and Rawlings Conservatory with colorful lights, a community parade, and a public party. On the evening of November 3rd, 2019, over three hundred residents, artists, and performers transformed Madison Avenue and Druid Park Lake Drive into a spectacular, roving block party. Neighbors collectively created a place to march, dance, and perform in celebration of our West Baltimore communities united in green space and creating safe streets for people.
Arches & Access was a Neighborhood Lights Project presented as part of the Brilliant Baltimore / Light City festival of light and literature. The event was led by Reservoir Hill artist Jessy DeSantis, Reservoir Hill advocate Courtney Bettle, and Auchentoroly Terrace artist and OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow Graham Coreil-Allen. The Reservoir Hill mothers Bettle and DeSantis took inspiration from DeSantis’ colorful painting of the Arches when they came up with the idea of creating a light art project in early 2019. Later the two reached out to public artist Coreil-Allen to help realize the project. Collectively they expanded the vision to include solar powered lights leading into the park, activated by a joyful community parade showing what life could be like without highways hindering pedestrian access to Druid Hill Park.
The project was made possible with help from community organizer Kate Jennings and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, grant funding from Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, leadership from 7th District Councilman Leon F. Pinkett, grant funding from Baltimore Heritage, in-kind support form OSI Baltimore, volunteers from Beth Am Synagogue’s IFO organization, and art making from numerous local youth. Leading up to the light art installation and parade, DeSantis led a series of lantern making workshops with local children at the Reservoir Hill Harvest Festival, St. Francis Neighborhood Center, and Dorothy I. Heights Elementary School. Her and Bettle also recruited volunteers and performers from across the region to participate in the parade and party. The parade featured mental health awareness bicycle group Benevolent Bubbles, Mexi Art by Ale’s Catrin & Catrina puppets, Wings Over Washington Kite Club, Girl Scout Troops 1028 and 1703, and the Twilighters Marching Band.
The Arches & Access team worked closely with Humdinger Productions events company on translating DeSantis’ artwork into a set of colorful light art installations illuminating the 1867 Druid Hill Park Gate and 1888 Rawlings Conservatory. Coreil-Allen orchestrated light art permissions and parade traffic control with several Baltimore City agencies, including Recreation and Parks, the Department of Transportation, Park Rangers, and a traffic detail from the Sheriff’s Office.
Once the block between the historic Arches and Druid Park Lake Drive successfully closed off to cars, hundreds of residents arrived on foot and bicycle from side streets and via the Big Jump shared-use path to see the lights and eagerly await the parade. Organizers Bettle, DeSantis, and Coreil-Allen welcomed the block party with remarks on the power of art to revitalize place and the value of Druid Hill Park. 7th District Councilman Leon F. Pinkett then officially kicked off the parade with a stirring poem on community and faith.
With the crowd and performers ready to go, Sheriff deputies moved into position to block cars on Druid Park Lake Drive as the Twiligthers led the parade across the thoroughfare with rousing beats and dance routines. Taking the five-lane-wide highway as their stage, the marching band performed several routines while motorists yielded to the community celebration. Having successfully created space for safe pedestrian passage, the parade moved northward into the park following rows of flashing, color-changing lights along the Swann Drive.
Having successfully created space for safe pedestrian passage, the parade moved northward into the park following rows of flashing, color-changing lights along the Swann Drive. As it made its way through Druid Hill Park the parade amplified drumline beats to surrounding blocks. Along the way, the march collected additional residents from Auchentoroly Terrace and Mondawmin side streets before rallying at the Rawlings Conservatory for an uplifting after party.
At the Conservatory participants enjoyed food from Everything Turkey and Wild Thyme food trucks, explored the Conservatory’s one-of-a-kind plant galleries, took photos with Side A Photography’s photo booth, and rocked out in a huge dance party to jams by DJ TNT. Before the night was over residents were proclaiming that Arches & Access should be an annual event uniting the communities of West Baltimore with Druid Hill Park. The organizers and partners couldn’t agree more!
Arches & Access was supported by a 2019 Neighborhood Lights Community Grant, The Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, Baltimore Heritage, and The Access Project for Druid Hill Park. Special thanks to T. Rowe Price – Community Engagement Partner, The Herbert Bearman Foundation – Supporting Sponsor of Neighborhood Lights, and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.
Photos by Graham Coreil-Allen, Paul Wilson, and Carde Cornish.