Baltimore Development Cooperative

Julia Kirkpatrick

Baltimore Development Cooperative (BDC)

            A play off of the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Baltimore Development Cooperative is a triage of artists: Dane Nester, Nicholas Wisniewski, and Scott Berzofsky. Painting majors at the Maryland Institute College of Art, it wasn’t until after graduation that the three started working collectively on politically based community art projects. Interested in urban redevelopment and reclaiming vacant space, the as-then unnamed co-op sought to transform some of Baltimore’s 40,000 vacant houses and 12,000 vacant lots into centers for art, community, and activism. These projects included working with artist Cira Pascual Marquina to compile video interviews with residents of neighborhoods cited for urban “redevelopment” and boarding up and wheat-pasting anti-gentrification posters on the windows of a local museum. The crew also helped work with activist Glenn Ross to organize a bus tour of those areas most blighted.

            Further experiments with social activism as an art practice led to the creation of a mobile trailer that folded down to become a portable stage or platform, used for workshops on cooking and sewing as well as distributing food and clothes to the local community. Scott Berzofsky describes the problems with the portable social space by stating “There’s a limit to the kind of relationships you can build in these short interventions: someone comes to get food and then they leave. You might have an informal conversation but ultimately it was too close to charity than we were comfortable with” (Amy Franceshini interview, unpublished). In an effort to “have our labor directly correspond to… self value” campbaltimore (the former name of the BDC) was founded. Participation Park, the project that the BDC is perhaps best known for, is a plot of land in Forrest Park that the BDC began illegally squatting on in order to transform the space into a community garden. The group lied to the University of Maryland, stating that they were given permission to use the land, and received an official letter from the school stating they had permission to use the fire hydrant nearby for irrigation purposes. Nicholas Wisniewski states “All of the grants we received were based on this lie. It was like this process of constructing an image of legitimacy, these layers of fiction that reinforced each other” (Franceshini). The garden grew into an urban farm and a community kitchen and has now become a four-year project.

            Recently, the BDC spent a week camping in a geodesic dome they had constructed out of entirely recycled materials in front of the Baltimore Museum of Art constructing a city out of cardboard to be placed inside of the museum. Admittedly the two projects were not an entirely accurate portrayal of the group’s work but they succeeded in winning the cooperative the Sondheim Artscape prize. Because of the difficulty in finding information on the group, I emailed them directly and received a prompt and friendly response in which they detailed their plans for the winter: finishing up the season in the garden, organizing events at the Baltimore Free School, and teaching a class on art and activism at a local university.

   

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