Inclusion Alley: UB Student Government, Volunteers Bring a Rainbow Home
October 23, 2020
Contact: Office of Government and Public Affairs
In the space between The University of Baltimore's Liberal Arts and Policy Building and the William H. Thumel Sr. Business Center, bordered by Charles Street on one side and Morton's Alley on the other, the UB Student Government Association recently added some vibrant color and positivity to the campus. While the pandemic has quieted this normally bustling neighborhood, the energy and spirit that the UB community is known for remains intact, in a new mural created by volunteers and inspired by the Philadelphia Rainbow Flag mural.
Designed by local community artist Sara Golden, the mural stretches from the Charles Street side of this previously unremarkable spot to the Morton Alley side. The work celebrates equality, solidarity, and the joy of togetherness. Now, more plans are taking shape to grow this space and give it more meaning through placemaking. Dubbed Inclusion Alley, this location represents a new point of pride for UB.
Of the installation, UB President Kurt L. Schmoke says, "The SGA is devoted to real governance, and this semester, despite the many challenges of the pandemic, they have moved UB forward. As a lifelong believer in the power of process, I was happy to work with the group to make sure the mural was made the right way so that it can endure in the elements."
SGA President Daniel Khoshkepazi, a master's degree candidate in the Global Affairs and Human Security program and community development fellowship coordinator in the College of Public Affairs, says the mural is an outcome of students' desire to create lasting change for their alma mater. Following is a Q&A with Khoshkepazi about this newly completed project:
You have talked about being inspired by the Philadelphia Rainbow Flag for UB's Inclusion Alley project. How did the idea come about—that what you saw in Philly could work in Baltimore, and UB is the right place for it?
Khoshkepazi: When [the SGA] started working on our platform for the year, we wanted to focus on creating projects and initiatives that would make a difference for years to come. I had initiated a similar project with the student government at my alma mater, SUNY Plattsburgh, and I shared it with everyone in the UBSGA. There was overwhelming support from our members who wanted to raise symbolic visibility of support for the LGBTQ+ community at the University of Baltimore and do a similar project. Something that was great about the Philadelphia Rainbow Flag was that it was inclusive of the black and brown community and it highlighted their contribution to the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and acceptance. We thought it was fitting for Baltimore to have a permanently painted flag that celebrated the black and brown LGBTQ+ members of our city and campus community. Our campus is very welcoming to LGBTQ+ students, which we knew made us the perfect place to home this project.
When the SGA started working on this initiative, how certain were you that it would work? Were you concerned because the campus is only lightly populated these days?
I think everyone had doubts about whether we could succeed in implementing this project, but I think people have such anxiety when they take on anything that is unusual and new. Our team has a very strong work ethic this year and from the start to the finish, SGA worked hard to actively engage with moving this project from an idea to reality. While students were not on campus this semester due to the pandemic, our University has implemented a process of approval that students can go through to gain access to being on campus if done in a way that it would not put participants at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. The overwhelming support that we got from President Schmoke, our advisers, and the campus community made us understand that if we approached this process with due diligence and did everything right, then it would be possible. With the strong work ethic of SGA and support from the UB community, we were able to make it happen.
Did you know from the beginning that this location, between the Business Center and the LAP, was the right spot?
Throughout the process the location changed a few times. Originally, we wanted to paint the intersection of Mt. Royal Avenue and Charles Street; however, we learned that scheduled road work interfered with the project. As this was out of our hands, we turned to another intersection at Preston and Charles streets. During a meeting with the City of Baltimore Transportation Authority, it was proposed to us to consider painting Morton Alley, which we loved as an idea. When we went down to Morton Alley and looked around, we saw the alley between Business Center and the LAP, and realized how we could repurpose space that has no vehicle traffic to have a greater purpose. That alley was also owned by the school, and that made it a much faster process to obtain permission for the execution of the project, in comparison with asking for permission to do work on a public road. [Morton Alley is a public way.] There were a few changes along the way, but not for a moment did this stop us from our commitment to realize this project.
How did you find the graphic artist?
We reached out on Instagram to a few Baltimore-based artists, but we did not have much success. Along the way, I spoke about this struggle of finding an artist with one of my neighbors, Sara Golden, who recently earned a master's from MICA with a concentration in public art. She was interested in helping. I am so glad I ran into her that day because it helped us to find a dedicated artist with passion who wanted to see this project realized.
How did you recruit volunteers?
Due to the ongoing pandemic, we asked SGA members to step up and help. We only planned for a total of four volunteers, to help protect the safety of all those participating. Volunteers signed up within 20 minutes after we sent out the email asking for help.
What steps did you take to keep the project in good physical shape for as long as possible? Do you have a plan to maintain it as the elements take their toll?
We included a special additive to the paint to make it sturdier and less slippery and to prolong the lifespan of the first painting. We plan on repainting the alley every other year during Baltimore Pride Week as part of the Baltimore Pride celebration. This provides us with a unique opportunity to have a meaningful activity to do during Pride Month, and allow students in the future to participate in the painting and feel empowered by this opportunity.
Now that we have Inclusion Alley, what's next?
We are interested in developing that space and providing it with more meaning through placemaking. We want to add some benches, planters, and more art along the white wall on the north side of the LAP building. This space can be much more, and we see the potential in it! I think we have a unique opportunity to recognize different types of diversity in this alley by bringing art that will raise symbolic visibility of support for different types of identities. We hope to work on bringing a Black Lives Matter mural to campus next, and it could possibly come to Inclusion Alley. We will have more details to share at the end of November when the SGA presents our Spring 2021 platform.
What did the SGA learn about taking on a large project like this?
We learned that if we set ambitious goals, we can realize them. With dedication and a strong work ethic, we can realize anything we take on. This was by no means an easy project to do—it was a lot of physical and behind-the-scenes work. But the end result of creating a positive impact is well worth all of the hard work that needed to be put into a project like this. Doing anything big is not easy.
Anything you'd like to highlight?
We can't say enough how thankful we are for our adviser, Anthony Butler, President Schmoke, our artist Sara Golden, Nicole Marano, Sally Reed, William Schnirel, Neb Sertsu and others for their endless support and for believing in us. Not for a moment did they doubt us. Thanks to their continuous encouragement and help we were able to have the confidence we needed to realize this project from start to finish. Even in moments when we hit a few roadblocks, with finding the perfect location or dealing with weather complications, they said to us: "It's OK. Don't worry, it will work out in the end." And it did!
Photos of the installation can be found here.