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Michael Hearts Baltimore

Artist Michael Owen painted his first Baltimore Love Project mural in Mount Washington
Artist Michael Owen painted his first Baltimore Love Project mural in Mount Washington

The Mount Washington Arboretum and the Gwynns Falls Trail at Carroll Park now boast an added attraction to their natural beauty. Fells Point artist and MICA graduate Michael Owen has lent his talent to spreading a little love in the city by painting large murals of hands spelling the word love. The two murals are just the beginning of Owen's campaign, called the Baltimore Love Project, to paint a total of 20 murals at various points throughout the city.

It started with a drawing in his sketchbook and led to the idea of painting identical murals in 20 different locations that are spread out evenly geographically around Baltimore. "There are sections of the city that are devoid of any creative art at all and then there are other places that have a lot of art in a concentrated area. A big point of this project is to spread out the work evenly," says Owen.

"I've spent a lot of time driving around Baltimore with a map and driving on roads I've never been on. I've lived in five or six different neighborhoods in Baltimore but some of these places I've never been to." He says he wants to get the image in front of people who don't have art in their neighborhood and may have never seen a mural before.

Though the murals will be painted on different buildings including shops, residential houses, and business, in diverse neighborhoods, the image will remain the same. "The idea was that the repetition might be a powerful way to get the message across of love," he says. "I'm hoping that the image itself and the size of it and where it's being placed with cross barriers and genres."

Baltimore is love

Owen is already an accomplished artist, with projects ranging from small interior murals to Baltimore's largest mural to date which covers both sides of a quarter-mile underpass on Eastern Avenue, but he says he's never done a project on this scale before. "A city-wide project is a huge undertaking. Luckily, Baltimore is such a community and people really want to help out and get involved. The response is not just happening after the murals go up, people want to help get them up."

Owen says that is why the message of love is such a good fit for Baltimore. "Baltimore is a great place to try out ideas like the Baltimore Love Project because the people here are so supportive. Even though it's not the art mecca of New York, it's a great place for young artists like me to try out what they want to do and get some feedback and support from people who are helping out in whatever way they can."

The project has been so popular, that in the midst of his work painting the murals, Owen developed a Baltimore Love Project t-shirt to give people an easy way to show their support of the project. Proceeds from the shirts are going directly toward the costs to paint the murals. Other support for the murals has come in the form of both monetary and in-kind donations from various businesses including Sherwin Williams, The Puffin Foundation, and the TKF Foundation.

Acts of love

Most recently, the project received a $5,000 donation from Schultz Development LLC toward the next mural which will be on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown. "I grew up not far from here," says Schultz owner Joseph Schultz. "The avenue where they're going to do the mural is where my mom used to take me shopping when I was a kid. I'm happy to see it being done here. The goal of the project is to make positive art across the city and who doesn't want to be involved in something good?"

Schultz says that more than 20,000 cars pass by the building on which the mural will be painted every day and thinks the project will help kick off the transformation of Highlandtown into an arts and entertainment district. "My goal is to see that happen here with shops, galleries, restaurants, and anything that caters to the arts. We can do good things here and the Love Project is a part of that. Goodness is very contagious."

That idea is at the very core of why Owen wanted to do the project. "The point of the whole thing is not a political platform or a religious group. It's to inspire people to do small acts of love. I'm not expecting people to see this and go out and change the world, but maybe a guy will see one of the murals on his way home from work and will pick up flowers for his girlfriend, or maybe a mom will see one and for one night won't hit her kid. It's little acts of love that I'm hoping will be inspired by these big murals. I think it's a realistic and practical goal that people can get behind to say 'Yeah, I can love in some way today.'"

Next up for the project is a fundraiser called Innovate Love to support a mural on North Avenue in Broadway East and one on Pratt Street near Hollins Market. The event, which will be held May 22 at Silo Point, will feature the work of more than 40 artists, many of which are local Baltimoreans. Owen will curate the silent art auction at the event. A selection of the works available at the auction will be displayed Wednesday, May 19 during the Innovate Baltimore networking event at Langermann's in Canton.

A graduate of both Towson University and University of Baltimore, Nicole Jovel lived in the Baltimore area for nine years. She writes for both corporate clients and local and regional publications.

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1. Artist Michael Owen at his first Baltimore Love Project mural in Mount Washington, provided by Michael Owen
2. Artist Michael Owen opens paint to begin a mural, provided by Michael Owen
3. Artist Michael Owen at his first Baltimore Love Project mural in Mount Washington, provided by Michael Owen
4. Scott Burkholder, Executive Director of the Baltimore Love Project - Photo by Arianne Teeple
5. Artists paint a Baltimore Love Project mural in Carroll Park, provided by Michael Owen
6. Band Deas Vail wears Baltimore Love Project t-shirts, provided by Michael Owen
7. A visitor sits to look at artist Michael Owen's Baltimore Love Project mural in Carroll Park, provided by Michael Owen

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