Druid Hill Park has had its ups and downs over the years. This fecund green space amid the urban landscape of Baltimore is home, of course, to the Maryland Zoo, miles of bicycle trails and walking paths, fountains, man-made ponds and lakes and the once-segregated clay tennis courts, where generations of Baltimoreans from all walks of life finessed their serves and volleys.
But the 745-acre oasis succumbed to urban blight and crime for a generation. While some of the neighborhoods surrounding the park were once among the most exclusive addresses, particularly for a subset of Baltimore’s upwardly mobile Jewish population in the early and mid-20th century, by the 1960s through the ‘70s and beyond, as the demographics of the area changed, the park became a place that many avoided.
On Sunday, May 19, Barbara Shapiro, a lifelong Baltimore resident and community activist, wants to re-invigorate Druid Hill Park with Art Outside, a daylong festival to celebrate “Dru Hill” — as natives fondly call it — and its legacy as an anchor for many of Baltimore’s Jewish and other communities.
Growing up in the Ashburton neighborhood of Forest Park, Shapiro has fond memories of Druid Hill as a central gathering spot for Jews who lived in its surrounding neighborhoods: Eutaw Place, Lake Drive, Auchentoroly Terrace, Mondawmin and Lower Park Heights.
“When I was a child I lived on a street called Ocala Avenue, which is off Reisterstown Road,” Shapiro, 78, recalled. “We were across the street from the park, where there was a playground on Reisterstown Road.”
She remembers the High Holidays as a time when scores of Jewish children and families would stroll the park after services. And the park was an extension of home as a place to meet friends, play, walk and congregate, bringing together residents from many of the Jewish enclaves in the area.
A longtime art collector, Shapiro also remembers a popular event started by Baltimore artist Amalie Rothschild, a painter, sculptor and printmaker. During the 1950s and early ’60s, Rothschild invited many Baltimore-area artists to show their works in the park as the days warmed in the late spring and early summer. Arts Outside pays homage to Rothschild’s efforts by bringing together Maryland artists once again to display and sell their work in the community.
Jennifer Berk, a self-taught painter who spent long days in her youth at her grandmother’s Lake Drive house across street from the reservoir in the park, said, “I do remember all the paintings hung up on the fence around the reservoir, just like in Paris. It was wonderful. I remember it vividly.”
Berk, a Mount Washington resident, is a longtime member of Beth Am Synagogue in the Reservoir Hill community, and she will be showing her paintings, including her abstract landscapes. Berk’s mother, Lane K. Berk, remains an active community organizer supporting social and arts causes throughout the region and beyond.
Shapiro pays homage to Rothschild’s legacy of providing space for artists to show their work. The festival will feature displays by more than 50 Maryland artists — painters, glass artists, jewelry makers, photographers, digital artists, leather workers, metal sculptors, textile artists, ceramicists, wood sculptors and more.
“The reservoir in Druid Hill is 150 years old this year, and the art show was disbanded in the early 1960s,” Shapiro said. “I thought it would be great to bring it back to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the reservoir, to help the burgeoning art community that we have in Station North and at the Maryland Institute College of Art, to acknowledge the [artists] in our community and to reminisce, for all those people who … still remember it with the fondest memories.”
Shapiro is collaborating with a number of Baltimore organizations to create a family-friendly day. Children in Baltimore city schools have been invited to submit their “Druidles,” akin to a Google doodle, many of which will be on display. Roving entertainers will perform along with a lineup of musicians, among them the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids and the Peabody Jazz Quintet. A kids’ art-experience area has been set aside for hands-on activities featuring the National Aquarium, the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Clayworks and Yoga Imaginarium, among others. And, what would a festival be without Baltimore’s best food trucks serving an eclectic selection from the city’s ethnic eateries?
Shapiro hopes Art Outside will reinvigorate the neighborhoods around the park and connect them to the arts community. “We live in one community,” she said. “We don’t live in Pikesville or Roland Park or Federal Hill. This is one city, and we have to understand each other and get together and not have this fear of crime so that [we] don’t enjoy our public spaces. To make it a better city, we have to all go to these places and work together.”
Art Outside, a free art festival, is Sunday May 19, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the reservoir in Druid Hill Park. For information, call 410-583-5703 or visit artoutsidemd.org.
Lisa Traiger is an area freelance writer.