Monday, October 22, 2012

Walking For John -- Creating a Beautiful Baltimore

Me with John's business and life partner, Roya Golpira
Saturday dawned crisply in the Baltimore County suburbs as I pulled on my exercise togs, tied my sneakers and headed downtown to Baltimore City, where I joined other hardy, like-minded souls on the patio outside the John Gutierrez Metalworking Studio ( as we prepared to embark on a five-mile hike to honor the artistic legacy of my dear friend, John Gutierrez, who succumbed to cancer three years ago. While only 36 people had registered for the Gutierrez Memorial Walk in the weeks leading up to this third annual celebration of John’s commitment to the arts and to bettering the lives of his fellow Baltimoreans, the number of eager participants swelled on this day to more than a hundred – all sipping apple juice in the brisk morning air as they reached into their pockets to give generously to the Gutierrez Memorial Fund which supports the arts by sponsoring artistic apprenticeships and participation in community beautification.

A lingering overcast was still present in Baltimore City at 10:30 a.m. as the crowd gathered to begin their stroll from Gutierrez Studios through historic Druid Hill Park, the third oldest park in the United States. Once we got underway, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of two remarkable women, Caprece Jackson-Garrett and Leasa Fortune, who are very active in Baltimore community affairs and served on the volunteer staff for Saturday’s event.

Caprece planting daffodils in 2011
As we walked, Caprece and Leasa explained that ARTBlocks is the beneficiary of the proceeds from this year’s Gutierrez Memorial Fund. ARTBlocks was created in 2010 to help Baltimore communities transform their public spaces through the grassroots process of creative place-making. It is ArtBlocks' vision to see the unique creative spirit and inventiveness of every Baltimore community reflected and expressed in its public spaces. 
Artistic columns by ARTBlocks
beautify the Mondawmin neighborhood

Last year ARTBlocks volunteers worked with Mondawmin neighborhood residents to increase the safety and beauty of a problematic intersection near the entrance to Druid Hill Park by planting over a thousand daffodil bulbs, among other improvements.
Rawlings Conservatory Palm House
Saturday's circuitous route through the picturesque park took us past some notable landmarks which were, helpfully, staffed by the Friends of Druid Hill Park, including the Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens, established by the City of Baltimore in 1888 and renamed more recently for the father of our current mayor. As one of the few remaining Victorian conservatories left in the world, the five story all-glass palm house was designed by architect George Frederick, who also designed Baltimore’s City Hall. As we rounded the scenic lake inside the park, the morning’s cloud-cover gave way to a brilliant blue sky, creating a striking backdrop for the dramatic autumn colors which are just now reaching their peak here in the mid-Atlantic.
My new friends, Caprece Jackson-
Garrett, left, and Leasa Fortune

My old friends Wayne Nicolette,
Jesse Turner, and Debbie Nicolette
Once the hundred-plus walkers made their way back to the patio and memorial firepit at Gutierrez Studios, the fabulous Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant next door offered up steaming bowls of vegetarian chili with toppings of shredded pork, cheddar cheese and sour cream sauce.  The ever-popular Rufus Roundtree & Da B'More Brass Factory entertained us as we ate with their terrific funkadelic music.  Complimentary Pinot Grigio was offered, and I had a glass!  Wine at noon – not an extravagance in which I usually indulge, but I was feeling quite virtuous for having walked eight kilometers in the brisk autumn air.
Everyone gathers at the Gutierrez Memorial firepit for chili and wine after the walk
In all, the Gutierrez Memorial Fund raised over $15,000 for ARTBlocks on Saturday. I was honored to be a part of such a joyful and worthwhile endeavor. It was a perfect way to spend a beautiful fall day.

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