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Woman transforms neighborhood with artistic mosaics

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    BALTIMORE, MD (WBAL) — Sometimes change just needs a visionary, like a woman who used her skills as an artist to transform a neighborhood.

“It’s a big change. It’s a big change. Nice clean block now. (It) used to be terrible around here,”Lewis Smith, a 35-year resident of the Harwood community said.

The 300 block of east Lorraine Avenue has gotten a huge facelift thanks to Tamara Payne, a community activist and artist. The mosaic-tiled house number signs and the hanging baskets are her touch.

“I just said, ‘I’m (going to) do house by house,'” Payne said. “I had a vision of seeing something brighter and beautiful.”

When Payne moved to the neighborhood in 2007, more than half of the block was vacant. The MICA graduate said she was determined to make it better.

“When I purchased my home, of course (I did) my exterior. Being the creative person, I am I started doing my mailbox and doing the house number signs,” Payne said.

Some neighbors commissioned Payne to do their addresses. Others could not afford to hire her, so the organization Strong City gave her money to do the rest of the mosaics. She still freshens up each the flower boxes each season, using a lot of her own funds.

“Most importantly, as a community artist, it’s about community building and bringing people together. But then it has them take ownership of their neighborhood,” Payne said.

Little by little, residents started sprucing up the outside of their homes with flowers and keeping their sidewalks clean. Payne’s work also affected the drug dealers who had been hanging out on the corner.

“I would sweep around them or start mulching and planting and they started assisting,” Payne said.

Payne said that, eventually they moved on, out of respect for what she was doing. Her neighbors are thankful.

“It makes me feel like I’m living in a different world now,” Smith said.

“I say it’s wonderful Instead of seeing trash, you see more flowers, clean pavements, that type of stuff,” resident James Lancaster said

Payne holds workshops at the Barclay Recreation Center and the Barclay Elementary/Middle School. She has put her artistic touch on those spaces. She has a grant to install butterflies on the homes in the neighborhood and she holds workshops for residents to learn to make their own. It’s called the “Butterfly Effect” — the idea that the smallest changes can have powerful unforeseen consequences.

“So, the butterflies are in memory of a lot of loved ones that we lost in the community. It’s about transformation,” Payne said.

She’s taking her vision and opening eyes to see what can be.

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