The Baltimore Love Project

Can love change the world? Most people might say yes. But can art change the world? And can a graphic painting with a love message on walls change the world? Michael Owen and Scott Burkholder believe it least in a small way.

It’s a simple concept.

Artist Michael Owen has designed a graphic of hands spelling out the word “love.” The plan is to paint this on walls in communities around Baltimore City and to connect people through these love-themed murals.

It’s called the Baltimore Love Project.

The design is already in two places: Mount Washington Arboretum and Carroll Park/ Gwynns Falls Trail. The project needs funding for 18 more love murals in Baltimore that will be identical but range in size depending on the space.

The Love People

I originally met Scott Burkholder at Watermark Gallery and learned that he is working with Michael on networking and fund raising for the Baltimore Love Project. In an age of youthful cynicism, I was fascinated by their idealism.

The two men originally connected through painting of a different kind. After graduating from MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), Michael worked for Scott in his interior painting business. Besides making money painting walls of houses, schools and businesses—in solid colors—Michael hoped he would gain some mural clients. However, it proved useful in another way. “My biggest gain was learning how to most efficiently cover a large wall. It was like my Jedi training,” says Owen. You can see some of Michael’s murals at his web site.

The friends kept in touch and later, when Michael told Scott about his vision of the Baltimore Love Project, Scott became involved from a business angle.

Scott says, “The Baltimore Love Project was the perfect opportunity for us to unite, Michael in a creative role and me in a business role. Our skill sets and personalities match well. Because we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we are able to execute quite proficiently.”


It’s not making them money so why are they doing it?

For Scott, it’s about relationships. “I am involved with this project because relationships are something that I value highly, and love is critical to successfully experience relationships. I am involved because we don’t necessary want to change the world, only to inspire it in small ways."

It’s also about using his business skills. “The project brings me joy as it fulfills my desire to use my skills in a significant and meaningful way. Over time I have realized that I enjoy entrepreneurship and business. I like analysis, I like strategic development, I like to build relationships and I like innovation. This project allows me to do all that, and all for a good cause—promoting love through art.”

Michael admits that he had “no divine moment I recall where the image from The Baltimore Love Project came to me.” He wanted to incorporate his more personal studio themes into public murals. “Then I began to see the possible repercussions this project might have on others. What if some guy saw a love wall on the way home from work? What if he smiled a bit and decided to pick up some flowers for his girlfriend? What if a mom saw one when pushing her kid home in a stroller? What if she didn't hit the child for that one night? These are small acts of love that can be inspired by these murals. Last week the project flashed through my mind when arguing with my own wife. I can't say it resolved the issue, but I did feel more compassion for her. To me, these incidents of love mark the success of the Baltimore Love Project.”

Neither of the friends is native to Baltimore, but they both want to create something positive in the city that they’ve grown to like. Scott came to Baltimore as an engineering student at the Johns Hopkins University in 1998 and when he graduated, he remained in Baltimore as a lab technician at Hopkins. Recognizing the lack of relationships in science, he started a painting business as a transition to whatever lies in his future role of promoting art. He likes the people and diversity in Baltimore and sees it as a place to discover and get to know many more people. “I have only begun my Baltimore adventure,” he says.

Michael, too, came to Baltimore as a student-- at MICA in 2000. At first he didn’t like the area and felt disconnected but an assignment in one of his classes drew him out to other areas and he began to see the city in a new way. Michael explains, “Marcel Proust said that ‘the real voyage of discovery is not in seeing new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes’. Baltimore is not palm trees and dolphins kissing as they jump toward the sunset, [Michael is from Orlando] but I latched onto a brokenness in the city that resounded in myself and from there into my art. Peel back the makeup and ego, it is in us all.”

The Power of Art

These two young men with a vision, one an artist and the other a businessman, might just be able to pull this off because there is power in art. I know this personally from an Edward Weston photograph I saw years ago. It was a black and white close-up of a green pepper. He photographed it in such a sensuous way that I was never able to look at a green pepper in the same way ever again.
© Edward Weston estate, 1930

Edward Steichen's curated exhibit and book, The Family of Man, made me change forever how I looked at our world and the people in it.

Simon Schama, author and speaker, says, “The power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we don't look at a face, a color, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again. We get fitted with new sight: in-sight. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are part of that process, but so too may be shock, pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. That kind of art seems to have rewired our senses. We apprehend the world differently.”

Remember the iconic newspaper photograph that Nick Ut (AP) took in 1972 of Phan Thị Kim Phúc at age nine running naked through the streets after being severely burned by a napalm attack? Or the photo taken by Eddie Adams (AP) in 1968 of General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong soldier? These two photos would become become two of the most famous images in journalism that would change the American public's views on the Vietnam War. Images can change the world.

There are other projects going on that seek to connect people through public art. One is the Dialogue Project which brings to cities installations consisting of ten, 7x8-foot free-standing screens covered with thousands of inspiring and insightful quotations from people throughout history.

Again, the question, can art change the world or change a community? Does public art have power? Can two young men with a vision make a difference? If you believe in possibilities and would like to help, you can purchase a T-shirt with the love logo. Proceeds will go to help the project.

The strange power of art is sometimes it can show that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. ~ John Berger, author/art critic

Smile !

Yesterday, a few photographers, including me, from Creative Exposure Baltimore volunteered at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital where we took free portraits of patients and their families. Marc Siegel is shown here taking a picture of a tiny subject. Today's Sun has an excellent article by Susan Reimer. (Sun photo Kim Hairston)

Read the story online here:,0,6722878.story

This is part of a global project called Help Portrait.

I'm not very good cooking in soup kitchens...or at home. This is one way I felt I could give to the community and was happy to do so. From the Help Portrait web site, it seems to have been a global success. It certainly was from our experience at Mount Washington.

Photo above shows photographers Marc, myself and Art. Other members of Creative Exposure Baltimore will participate in future portrait sessions.




Visible light image of the Helix Nebula, compiled from Hubble telescope and ground-based images in 2004. the Helix Nebula known also as The Eye of God, The Helix or NGC 7293. It is a large planetary nebula (PN) located in the constellation of Aquarium. It was discovered by Karl Ludwig Harding around 1854 and is one of the closest to the Earth of all the bright planetary nebulae. The Eye of God is about 700 light-years from the Earth. Credit: NASA, ESA and C.R. O'Dell (Vanderbilt University)

A few days ago, I listened to The Story on NPR where I heard an interview with Rosemary Stewart Stafford, daughter of mixed race parents, who infiltrated white supremacist hate groups when she was an adult. One of these groups, Christian Identity, is a right wing “religious” sect that has embraced Anglo-Israelism, a belief that Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Scandinavian, German and related cultures are racial descendents of the tribes of Israel, the ancient Israelites of the Old Testament. Members tend to oppose gun control and participate in militia movements.

They have extended this to racist and homophobic beliefs and believe Jews to be descendants of Satan. In the radio interview, Rosemary Stafford told of talking with one member of a group she had infiltrated who actually called for the murder of all who are not part of the perceived special Anglo-Israelite group. The reason? To clean the earth of all undesirables so Jesus could return to the earth. You can listen to it here.

Once again, religion is used as a conduit for hatred!

On the same day I heard the NPR interview, someone posted the text of “A Letter from God” on her Facebook wall. It was originally broadcast by Paul Harvey. You can hear it here.

I’m posting the text below. It puts things into perspective in modern vernacular as if God is writing us a letter:

My Dear Children (and believe me, that's all of you),

I consider myself a pretty patient Guy. I mean, look at the Grand Canyon. It took millions of years to get it right. And how about evolution? Boy, nothing is slower than designing that whole Darwinian thing to take place, cell by cell and gene by gene. I've even been patient through your fashions, civilizations, wars and schemes, and the countless ways you take Me for granted until you get yourselves into big trouble again and again.

But on this occasion of My Son's birthday, I want to let you know about some things that are starting to tick me off.

First of all, your religious rivalries are driving Me up a wall. Enough already! Let's get one thing straight: These are your religions, not Mine. I'm the Whole Enchilada; I'm beyond them all. Every one of your religions claims there's only one of Me (which, by the way, is absolutely true). But in the very next breath, each religion claims it's My favorite one. And each claims its bible was written personally by Me, and that all the other bibles are man-made. Oh, Me. How do I even begin to put a stop to such complicated nonsense?

Okay, listen up now: I'm your Father and Mother, and I don't play favorites among My Children. Also, I hate to break it to you, but I don't write. My longhand is awful, and I've always been more of a "doer" anyway. So all your books, including the bibles, were written by men and women. They were inspired, remarkable people, but they also made mistakes here and there. I made sure of that, so that you would never trust a written word more than your own living Heart.

You see, one Human Being to me -- even a Bum on the street -- is worth more than all the holy books in the world. That's just the kind of Guy I Am. My Spirit is not an historical thing, It's alive right here, right now, as fresh as your next breath.

Holy books and religious rites are sacred and powerful, but not more so than the least of You. They were only meant to steer you in the right direction, not to keep you arguing with each other, and certainly not to keep you from trusting your own personal connection with Me.

Which brings Me to My next point about your nonsense: You act like I need you and your religions to stick up for Me or "win souls" for My Sake. Please, don't do Me any favors. I can stand quite well on my own, thank you. I don't need you to defend Me, and I don't need constant credit. I just want you to be good to each other.

And another thing: I don't get all worked up over money or politics, so stop dragging My name into your dramas. For example, I swear to Me that I never threatened Oral Roberts. I never rode in any of Rajneesh's Rolls Royces. I never told Pat Robertson to run for president, and I've never ever had a conversation with Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, or Jimmy Swaggart! Of course, come Judgment Day, I certainly intend to...

The thing is, I want you to stop thinking of religion as some sort of loyalty pledge to Me. The true purpose of your religions is so that you can become more aware of Me, not the other way around. Believe Me, I know you already. I know what's in each of your hearts, and I love you with no strings attached. Lighten up and enjoy Me. That's what religion is best for.

What you seem to forget is how mysterious I Am. You look at the petty little differences in your scriptures and say, "Well, if this is the Truth, then that can't be!" But instead of trying to figure out My Paradoxes and Unfathomable Nature -- which, by the way, you never will -- why not open your hearts to the simple common threads in every religion?

You know what I'm talking about: Love and respect everyone. Be kind. Even when life is scary or confusing, take courage and be of good cheer, for I Am always with you. Learn how to be quiet, so you can hear My Still, Small Voice (I don't like to shout). Leave the world a better place by living your life with dignity and gracefulness, for you are My Own Child. Hold back nothing from life, for the parts of you that can die will surely die, and the parts that can't, won't. So don't worry, be happy (I stole that last line from Bobby McFerrin, but he stole it from Meher Baba in the first place.)

Simple stuff. Why do you keep making it so complicated? It's like you're always looking for an excuse to be upset. And I'm very tired of being your main excuse. Do you think I care whether you call me Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Wakantonka, Brahma, Father, Mother, or even The Void or Nirvana? Do you think I care which of My Special Children you feel closest to -- Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed or any of the others? You can call Me and My Special Ones any name you choose, if only you would go about My business of loving one another as I love you. How can you keep neglecting something so simple?

I'm not telling you to abandon your religions. Enjoy your religions, honor them, learn from them, just as you should enjoy, honor, and learn from your parents. But do you walk around telling everyone that your parents are better than theirs? Your religion, like your parents, may always have the most special place in your heart; I don't mind that at all. And I don't want you to combine all the Great Traditions into One Big Mess. Each religion is unique for a reason. Each has a unique style so that people can find the best path for themselves.

But My Special Children -- the ones your religions revolve around -- all live in the same place (My Heart) and they get along perfectly, I assure you. The clergy must stop creating a myth of sibling rivalry where there is none.

My Blessed Children of Earth, the world has grown too small for your pervasive religious bigotry and confusion. The whole planet is connected by air travel, satellite dishes, telephones, fax machines, rock concerts, diseases, and mutual needs and concerns. Get with the program! If you really want to help Me celebrate the birthday of My Son Jesus, then commit yourselves to figuring out how to feed your hungry, clothe your naked, protect your abused, and shelter your poor. And just as importantly, make your own everyday life a shining example of kindness and good humor. I've given you all the resources you need, if only you abandon your fear of each other and begin living, loving, and laughing together.

Finally, My Children everywhere, remember whose birth is honored on December 25th, and the fearlessness with which He chose to live and die. As I love Him, so do I love each one of you. I'm not really ticked off, I just wanted to grab your attention because I hate to see you suffer. But I gave you Free Will, so what can I do now other than to try to influence you through reason, persuasion, and a little old-fashioned guilt and manipulation? After all, I Am the original Jewish Mother. I just want you to be happy, and I'll sit in The Dark. I really Am, indeed, I swear, with you always. Always. Trust In Me.

Your One and Only,




The Story on NPR:

Paul Harvey's Letter From God:

Teaching Tolerance (an excellent resource):

More about the Helix Nebula: (A similar picture of the one above)