This blog was bound to come. For it’s been brewing for me to bring up this topic for a couple years since my article Baltimore is Too Cliqued Up to Have Supporters. I never knew how to approach it until now after years of living as a writer, artist, and social influencer in the Baltimore’s Art scene. It’s not until now that I know how to express my observations on what has changed, and what we as artists and influencers should be doing to finally let go of our crab in a barrel mentalities and work together to show the value of our city.
I decided to write a four-part blog series about the quality of the Baltimore arts scene since I’ve become a participant of the culture in 2013. When I began frequently attending open mics, showcases and other artsy events in the city, I met a lot of talented people while writing about my experiences. I learned that this culture is constantly changing but there’s a stigma that remains were artist fight for support. Though I haven’t heard the saying “Baltimore city artists are crabs in a barrel” thrown around much this past year, this city has not overcome it. So I thought I’d reflect on some of my speculations.
It all starts as a response to my friend and blogger of Uncommonrealist Shae McCoy who discusses her sudden lifestyle change as her opinion for Baltimore’s Art scene changed in her December 2017 article “Becoming an Introverted Creative: Being Seen Ain’t Always Peaches and Cream,” I’ve found a lot of bloggers and artists, including myself, who once took a front seat in being influencers of their crafts slow down and become more reserved since the 2015 Baltimore Uprising while a plethora of newcomers stood in a line awaiting for their glorious turn to have their shine in the front seat. There was a slew of folk taking larger interests in things already innovated in the present art culture, and until this day there remains a culture of creators lacking originality; very few creating a lasting impact for “real” talent represented in Baltimore.
Shae discusses her shift to becoming an introvert having sparked from observations of the social environment that surrounds Baltimore creatives. With this generation’s desire to chase instant gratification, Shae finds that she isn’t a creative that resonates with the fascination of social climb visible on social media. The temporary fame that follows instant gratitude lacks substance and becomes similar to debates contrasting quantity and quality. For people who want to be remembered for what they spend most of their lives perfecting, building a legacy is what’s most important for many artists in Baltimore. Shae doesn’t believe that a legacy can be met focusing on the attention attracted through staying abreast on social media and each amount of likes on a post does nothing but temporary boost self-esteem.
There is more to the artists that meets the eye. Have we forgotten why we like art? Have we forgotten why we pursue these artistic dreams?
Why has the art scene in Baltimore become much more saturated with people pursuing similar passions?
As social media usage breeds more creators and self-starters, an increase of there being less unique content fills the pages across our browsers. Everyone who wants to be anyone creates startups for podcasts, blogs, vlogs, websites and more. There are more rappers, painters, party promoters, models, producers, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and clothing designers. The scene is lacking originality and a true understanding of good branding because everyone wants to do the same thing. It comes off as people being more ready for their big break and quick fix.
Could these newcomers be looking for their craft to become their savior? Influencers like D. Watkins, author of memoirs The Cook Up and The Beast Side, Devin Allen, photographer and author of A Beautiful Ghetto, and Kwame Rose, activist and public speaker during Baltimore Uprising, gained recognition and a social following for their talents after the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death. They sparked a career in their passions that people see and admire with the help of the Uprising. People from around the world seek to hear the stories of Baltimoreans during a time of adversity and these people showed a promising perspective while using their talents. They also received support from many locals because they presented a story of our city that we could all agree upon.
I once mentioned during the Uprising artist should take this moment to share what makes Baltimore city a great place to live. We should shed light on what’s positive happening rather than focus on what national media wanted to report. But never did I think that everyone would jump the gun to use their art to grasp the attention of the world.
With the rise of these artists came the many crabs of the city still seeking the same gratification. But three years later, it’s evident these crabs were not understanding why these artists were getting genuine love and support from locals. Baltimore is known for its crab in a barrel mentality; which means whenever people see others succeeding they generally find ways to hold those reaching success back by not lending support or by offering alternatives that could ruin their positive climb.
In the case of the many crabs that have emerged, there isn’t much of a pull to hold others back lately, rather a saturation of the culture. There are too many people doing the same thing. There are too many artists providing a solution to an issue already resolved by other artists that paved the way for recognition. Everyone wants to provide a platform for artist to showcase talents. Everyone has an open mic. Everyone believes they have the “it” factor. The list goes on.
We used to hear, “Everyone wants to be a rapper.” We would hear it so frequently that we coined the term “Baltimore rapper” and knew immediately the persona of that individual. Now everyone wants to be anything they see another person doing within the arts. The entire country was watching us at our worse, and Baltimore artists decided it was a show-and-tell for literally everyone.
It could be the amount of likes a successful artist gets that crabs start snipping at their glimpse of hope. But that should not be the general mission for building a better reputation for a city that’s constantly slandered in national media.
We as influencers do not chase likes. We chase a legacy. We strive to be the change Baltimore city needs. We are the positive images opposing HBO’s The Wire, a series who outsiders praise and uphold as what they think is a true representation of Baltimore city. We are the people that work hard to erase those negative stereotypes. We cannot reach change chasing views and likes on Instagram or Facebook because those likes are only temporary. Those are only platforms that assist in the bigger picture.
I don’t believe it’s doing the Baltimore Arts Scene much justice having so many artists doing similar things, instead, people look like they’re incapable of being authentic. Artists that come after innovators are viewed as trend followers rather than trendsetters. That isn’t what true pushers of the Baltimore Arts culture wanted. The art culture in Baltimore is unique once you stumble across true gold. But saturation pushes the talented and influencers away from being the great representation the city needs. Thus why we hear so many people believe they must move out of Baltimore in order to truly gain the recognition they desire.
Why should we need to move away to get what we deserve? It should start from home, as it did for Rose, Allen, and Watkins. An artist who has real talent must bring the spark that makes an audience adhere to a story worth hearing. It must be original. They must work hard and strive for their legacy. It won’t happen overnight or in an instant with a click or like.
The quality of our cultural scene is still thriving because there are so many people that participate. But there should be more resources available to help artist own up to a legacy they see within themselves. It’s not enough if the artist is the only one who sees their own potential. A like does not confirm that a message has been met, and there is a desperate need for someone to force these crabs to wake up a smell the coffee.
What do you think? Is it a problem that there is more artist striving to do the same thing? Do you think Baltimore is on the right path to playing in the fields with artists who come from Atlanta, LA, and New York? Leave your comments below?
Have you read about DaCornerStore’s attempt to create a #NewBaltimore for hip-hop artist in Baltimore and my opinion of how it was a drastic fail? Read NewBaltimore or OldBaltimore? We’re all Crabs on Doc’s Castle Media.