Earlier this year, a group of artists (led by Nether) working under the Wall Hunters banner teamed up Carol Ott of Baltimore Slumlord Watch for the Slumlord Project, an effort to draw attention to “dilapidated vacant houses” in Baltimore that the project organizers determined were owned by peopled they considered “negligent property owners.” One of those property owners, Stanley Rochkind, is now suing Ott through two of the shell companies through which Rochkind owns property. The lawsuits demand that Ott remove two murals from buildings that were painted by the Wall Hunters artists. The lawsuits are particularly ironic because Rochkind initially claimed not to own these buildings and the Wall Hunters artists painted these buildings specifically because Rochkind has not bothered to maintain them.
So… Rochkind is suing for “repairs,” on dilapidated buildings that he has not bothered to actually repair in any way and which, in an effort to discredit the Wall Hunters, he initially claimed not to own. Sounds like a stand-up guy.
Editor’s note: I tried to write about this fascinating project that just finished up in Baltimore, but for some reason I was unable. So, instead, I asked Nether to write about the project for Vandalog. Nether was one of the co-organizers, so instead of my guesswork and thoughts based on a few articles I had read, now we have a first-hand account of one of the more daring street art projects in recent memory: Wall Hunters’ “Slumlord Project”. – RJ Rushmore
Wall Hunters‘ “Slumlord Project” was a project that installed 17 pieces on dilapidated vacant houses that are owned by people we consider to be negligent property owners. The project was a collaborative venture between the newly-minted street artists’ nonprofit, Wall Hunters, and Slumlord Watch, a local blog that documents the city’s shameful and shockingly large stock of uninhabitable vacant homes. QR codes and text descriptions were pasted alongside the art. A cell phone app scan of these instantly unveiled ownership information on the guilty landowner by linking to the Baltimore Slumlord Watch website. The artists’ ephemeral work and the community reaction to it was recorded for a documentary being produced by the project’s third partners, filmmakers Tarek Turkey and Julia Pitch. The project’s goal was to catalyze a larger conversation on Baltimore’s vacancy issue–a conversation that includes the normally muted voices of those who live in the targeted neighborhoods, as well as politicians and the developers whose phone calls get answered by city hall.
The idea for the project was born about a year ago. At that time I was putting up wheatpastes on dilapidated, vacant houses. As I was researching specific properties I was hitting, I regularly came across the Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog run by the housing activist Carol Ott. Slumlord Watch is basically Wiki-leaks for Baltimore’s underfunded housing authority. As blog posts make clear, many of the blighted houses are owned by entities with the means to fix their crumbling properties–slumlords who blithely ignore the cost of their neglect on city communities. Since much of my work uses images to deal with the vacancy problem and Carol was battling the same issue, we decided to meet and try to do something that joined street art with housing activism. I began driving her around while she catalogued vacants and researched ownership, and I wheatpasted.
One of the most pivotal aspects of street art is the democratization of public space. Whether people choose to engage or not, graffiti and street art are a way of reminding the everyday pedestrian that they have the power to manipulate their environment (sometimes at a price). Many residents of Balitmore have had to accept dilapidated neighborhoods as their everyday quality of life. The structures around them are literally falling apart due to neglect from city government property owners and has resulted in a massive property-vacancy problem. If Broken Window Theory has anything to do with it, that “If the city doesn’t care, why should I?” mentality has fostered one of the highest crime rates for any city in the country.
What does street art have to do with Baltimore’s structural issues and decline in living standards? Over a dozen street artists have taken on the task of bringing attention to these issues in a grassroots effort, through installing large pieces on some of the city’s dilapidated, vacant houses. Nether, Gaia, LNY, Noh J Coely, Mata Ruda, Nanook, Harlequinade and others have joined their forces as a non-profit organization called Wall Hunters have teamed up with Baltimore Slumlord Watch to put up large-scale murals on these eye-sore structures with QR codes alongside which informs viewers of who owns the vacant property. Simultaneously, they are creating a documentary with Nether and Carol Ott at the forefront, showing this massive issue corroding Baltimore and their relatively small effort to combat it. They’ve received a bit of funding to make their project possible but not enough, so they’ve created this Indiegogo campaign to bring it to fruition.