While visiting Baltimore, we met up with Richard Best aka Xxist over at the Creative Labs — a DIY incubator for artists and creative entrepreneurs housed in a huge warehouse designed from up-cycled materials. There we had the opportunity to find out a bit about the city’s SectionI Project that he had founded.

Can you tell us something about the SectionI Project? Just what is it?

It is a non-profit dedicated to utilizing urban art to enrich our lives.  Among its missions is to provide artists with opportunities to produce and promote vibrant, progressive and creative forms of urban art, while serving and enriching their communities. 

How do you go about accomplishing this?

To do this, we seek vacant, underutilized and derelict sites and we work on transforming them into vibrant venues and cultural centers.  Among the key projects we are working on is the development of a huge urban art park in the heart of Baltimore, between Station North Arts and Entertainment District. This Section1 Urban Art Park will not only provide nearby communities with a much-needed recreational park, but also serve as a cultural center for the entire city of Baltimore.


When and how did this project first begin?

It began in September 2012, while I was enrolled in Design Leadership — a dual masters program between Johns Hopkins Carey Business School and Maryland Institute College of Art. Upon graduation, I was provided with $10,000 in seed funding from Maryland Institute College of Art’s LAB Award. This seed funding was utilized to establish Section1 Inc.

This huge space we are visiting now — the Creative Labs — is a wonderful showcase for urban art — both outdoors and indoors — and provides space for artists to work, as well.

Yes. There are a range of work spaces, including those for woodworking and photography. One of our missions is to provide artists with studio space. Space of this kind is essential in meeting the growing needs of today’s multidisciplinary artists. Upon completion, the Labs will feature a wide variety of resources including a green screen, cyclorama, fab-lab, art gallery, design studios, conference room, paint booth, dark room, washout booth, art storage and over 5,000 sq. ft. of communal space.


That’s quite impressive! How do you get the word out on what you have to offer artists?

It’s largely organic. Artists speak to one another and let each other know. We also advertise on Craigslist.

What you’ve done here is quite amazing. What are some of your biggest challenges?

One of our greatest challenges has been identifying the property owners of potential spaces. It is often quite difficult to track down who owns a space.


And what about funding all of this? How do you do it?

We are always looking to expand our team by engaging talented volunteers.

On the grounds here there is work not only by local artists such as Nether and Pablo Machioli, but by international artists, as well.

Yes! And through a partnership with Urban Walls Brazil, several Brazilian artists — including Mateu Velasco and Mateus Bailon — have painted here.


How can folks contact you? To obtain more information? To visit? To become engaged in Baltimore’s SectionI Project?

They can reach me at They can also check us out on Instagram and visit our site online.

It’s looking great! Good luck with it all!


Note: The Creative Labs is located at 1786 Union Ave in Baltimore, MD.


1. & 2. Baltimore-based Nether, close-up from huge mural on the grounds of the Creative Labs

3. South Africa-based Corban Lundborg painted inside the Creative Labs

4. Baltimore-based Pablo Machioli and Buenos Aires-based Alfredo Segatori, close-up from mural on the grounds of the Creative Labs

5. Brazilian artist Mateu Velasco on the grounds of the Creative Labs

6. Brazilian artist Mateus Bailon on the grounds of the Creative Labs

Photo credits: 1-4 & 6 Lois Stavsky; 5 Tara Murray; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky with Tara Murray



While in Baltimore earlier this month, I stumbled upon an intriguing medley of murals just a few steps from Station North. I soon discovered that they were sponsored by Section 1, an ambitious urban art project aimed at transforming an adjacent abandoned 3.5-acre site into a huge urban art park with over 70,000 square feet of paintable surfaces. Here are a few more murals I sighted that day, some of which are certain to have been repainted in this open-air revolving canvas.

Baltimore native Nether


New Orleans native Adam Estes


Baltimore-based Adam Stab


La Anarchy


Baltimore-based Colombian tattoo artists Kike Castillo and Jesse Kuzniarsk


 Note: The first image pictured is a collaborative mural by Werc, Rubin and Billy Mode

Photos by Lois Stavsky


Nether-Freddy-Gray-Mural-Baltimore copy

A few years back, several wheatpastes – many of children — surfaced on the walls of NYC’s marginal neighborhoods. The works of Baltimore-based artist and activist Nether, they seamlessly reflected the folks with whom they shared the streets. In his native Baltimore, Nether has been actively involved in several community-oriented projects, including Baltimore Slumlord Watch drawing attention to neglected properties and the issue of vacant housing. And in 2013, as founder and president of the non-profit, Wall Hunters, INC, he facilitated the installation of 17 murals on abandoned properties in Baltimore.  More recently,  Nether‘s focus has been on the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of his city’s police and Baltimore’s broken justice system. While visiting Baltimore earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak to Nether and visit some of his recent murals.

When I last visited Baltimore, you were involved in the Wall Hunters: Slumlord Project.  Its intention was to expose landlords who had neglected properties. Have you seen any outcomes from this project?

Definitely! Since the project began, there’s been dialogue on the issue and focus from the social justice community. It’s hard to know if we were directly responsible, but several buildings that we targeted have been demolished. The first one happened only a month after Stefan Ways painted his piece on it.


How has the local art scene changed in these past few years?

It really has.  There seem to be many more projects coming from a variety of directions and approaches.  Also, recently there has been a lot of reflection in the art scene on the many barriers in the city that separate people. Hopefully, this will create pressure on curators, venues, gallery owners, and arts businesses to diversify their crowds, artists and outreach. There has, also, been a focus on social justice through street art this summer. I have been involved in organizing murals in Sandtown. BOPA has been running this amazing ART@WORK program — in partnership with Jubilee  —  teaching and employing kids in Sandtown to paint murals with professionals such as Ernest Shaw.  Also, a group of Morgan students organized an installation on Greenmount Avenue adjacent to a wall by Pablo Machioli and Gaia.  Other active projects include: Richard Best’s Section 1 Project and the Shift Project in Highlandtown.


The memorial mural that you painted in tribute to Freddy Gray has garnered quite a bit of media attention.  At what point did you begin painting the mural?

The planning began after his death around the time of the first protest, and I began painting the mural the day the curfew ended.

What was the mood like the evening of his death?

People were respectful and united.  So much solidarity that evening. The people were taking their pain and turning it into an incredibly positive movement.


How do folks in Sandtown respond to your presence in their neighborhood?

Generally, people are surprised, yet welcoming.  People constantly speak to me, and I always welcome that.  I essentially sit on a ladder all day and receive stories.  My feeling is that I’m a guest in their neighborhood, and I need the people’s blessings to paint.  Also, I’m very up-front about my personal background and what part of the city I’m from. I do get occasional comments that are meant to offend me, but street art in Baltimore has the potential to break down the social boundaries created by decades and decades of discrimination.  A mutual feeling of Bmore Love among Baltimoreans is one of those forces that is so strong that, I believe, it can get over any hurdle that is thrown in front of it.  When I go to a place like Sandtown, it is to create a dialogue and deal with hard topics that I have to be comfortable talking about. What I do isn’t easy; it deals with very difficult issues.  Many of the conversations that I have had with people have heavily influenced my artwork. I try to plan murals that are able to adapt and change through dialogue and the creative process.


What did bring you to Sandtown at such a difficult time?

Having previously done many paste-ups and murals in Sandtown, loving Baltimore, and the fact that state violence had been the focus of my work for a while now.

And how has the response to the final mural been?

Folks have been extremely appreciative and supportive.  The mural has attracted media, often giving residents the chance to speak out about those issues that are so important to the entire city.  The more murals that go up from all the projects going on in Sandtown, the more this will happen. The idea is to promote a message that is amplified so loudly that it can no longer be ignored.


What’s ahead?

More murals in Baltimore that will act to aid the movement and call out the issues that have plagued Baltimore’s neglected neighborhoods for generations.

Note: Photos 2 and 3 are of murals done in collaboration with Stefan Ways.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photo 4 by Lois Stavsky; all others courtesy of the artist.

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 "Centre-fuge Public Art Project"

Last weekend, the DOT trailer at First Street off First Avenue was — once again — transformed into a beguiling open-air gallery. Here are a few more images:

Joshua David McKenney at work

"Centre-fuge Public Art Project"

Moody Mutz, Jeromy Velasco, Nether and Abitar

"centre-fuge public art project"

 Moody Mutz at work 

"Moody Mitz"

Jeromy Velasco and Nether

"Centre-fuge Public Art Project"

Nether at work




This cycle of the Centre-fuge Public Art Project continues through September 25, 2014.

Note: The first photo features Raquel EchaniqueAl Ortiz Jr and Joshua David McKenney.

All photos by Dani Reyes Mozeson, except for Moody at work by Lois Stavsky


This is the first in a series of occasional posts featuring images of children that surface on NYC public spaces:

Chris Stain and Billy Mode at the Bushwick Collective

Chris Stain and Billy Mode

Joe Iurato at the Bushwick Collective

Joe Iurato

And at Cheryl Hazan Contemporary Art

Joe Iurato

CAW — Creative Arts Workshops for Kids — in East Harlem

CAW public art

 Iranian artist Mad in Bushwick


Icy and Sot in Bushwick

Icy and Sot

Baltimore-based Nether in Brooklyn


John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres in the South Bronx

John Ahearn

Swoon — close-up — in Red Hook, Brooklyn



Photos by Dani Mozeson, Tara Murray and Lois Stavsky


Speaking with Nether

January 23, 2013

Nether in NYC

With his hauntingly elegant wheatpastes of everyday folks, Baltimore-based Nether has transformed the visual landscape of his city’s bleakest blocks. Within the past few months, his vision has also made its way to NYC. And opening tomorrow, January 24, at Weldon Arts is Crumbling Cities, a solo exhibit of Nether’s works.

When and why did you first get up?

It all started – sadly – as a rebellious middle schooler trying to be cool.

Did any particular artists inspire you to move in your current direction?

The two artists who really got me going were Gaia and Tefcon.  I was living and sharing a studio space with Tefcon, and just watching his relentless hustle and work inspired me.  And around that time, I got to be friends with Gaia and filmed him at work with Nanook.  I soon became super interested in wheatpaste.  It was like a bomb went off in my head.  It seemed like the perfect bridge between my politics and my art.  And Gaia was super helpful showing me the ropes and sharing his print and other connections with me.

When did you begin getting your wheatpastes up?

Started really going hard about three – four years ago.


And what about the risks? What inspired you to take the legal risks?

Seeing what other artists like Cedar, Dume, Ways, and a lot of KSW/NSF writers were doing at the time inspired me. And I see my work on the streets as a way to empower other Baltimoreans.

In the past few years, you’ve made quite a mark. Your work can be seen not only in Baltimore, but in NYC, Philly, DC, Berlin, Shanghai, Paris and London. You seem to be on a mission. Could you tell us something about it?

I see public art as a vehicle for social change. And the artist — by transforming the landscape – is the facilitator of this change. By getting up on the streets, I can reach masses of people at the same time that I am beautifying the environment.

Are there any issues that particularly concern you?

My main focus is the issue of slumlords neglecting their vacant properties in Baltimore.  People just deem these areas hopeless and don’t think to address the issue or find out who is responsible. I am trying to put it in their faces.


Any favorite spots?

Anything vacant. I love vacant doors, electrical boxes and glass.

How do the cops respond to your current ventures?

Generally, if the cops come by, it’s in a non-threatening way.  They always have way more pressing issues on their plates. I just tell them that I’m trying to beautify the neighborhood, and they are usually just curious and confused.  A few times they’ve actually watched my back!  Most of the more intense run-ins with the police have been out-of-town.

What about your parents?

When I first started going hard with it, they were worried.  I remember getting a call from my mom after she drove by one of my pieces on i-83. But now they are totally down and both really dig it.


What was the riskiest thing you ever did?

The riskiest thing I ever did was the dumbest. I was with my buddy Tony trying to put up a piece in daylight on the Amtrak Line.  Two trains passed by, and then one came by super slow and stopped. Three transit cops jumped off and chased me.  I ran off the track clearing, slid off this embankment and fell like 20 feet into the Jones Falls.  Then I swam across and hid under a rock for like 45 minutes till they gave up looking for me.  I got a really nasty cough after that.

What about the role of the Internet in all this? How do you feel about it?

I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it kills the experience of simply stumbling upon a piece.  On the other hand, it allows folks all over the world to see the work I’ve created for a specific small community.

Are there any artists who particularly intrigue you these days?

I am really digging Pixel’s recent work and Ludo in Paris.  Swoon has always been my favorite artist, and her new stuff continues to stun me.  On the graf side of things, it’s Kuma and Goal.


Have you collaborated with any artists?

I’ve installed work with a bunch of artists from different places.  Shouts to Mata Ruda, Harlequinade, Sorta, Gaia, Tefcon  — and many others.

How do you feel about the branding of street art and graffiti? Are you open to it?

I think it’s sad, but often necessary.  It’s all about who you get the money from and what you do with the money.  On one hand, all this focus on money changes the nature of the underground. But, at the same time, the money allows us to pump funds into the street game.


What’s ahead?

I’m super-psyched about this new project with the Baltimore Slumlord Watch. We are going to wheatpaste artwork onto all of Baltimore’s neglected vacant properties. We will post large QR codes – next to the artwork – directing passersby to the Slumlord Watch website. On the doorways we will list the specific property violations and the contact info to report them.  This project is intended to create awareness and pressure absentee slumlords into fulfilling their responsibilities.  I am also working on a mural project with the Muhammad Ali Center.

It all sounds wonderful! And good luck with your exhibit at Weldon Arts.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photos by Tara Murray, Lois Stavsky and courtesy of the artist