The Pin is Mightier

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The unusual structure is meant to give a sense of place to a diverse neighborhood.
Andy Dahl

In East Baltimore, three artists have created a pushpin-on-steroids to put an oft-forgotten community on the map and welcome new residents to the area.

The big red pushpin is the main feature of a bus stop that was erected this fall in the Baltimore Highlands neighborhood.

The oversized pin juts into the sidewalk at an angle, as if it’s pinning the shelter to the ground. On the shelter’s undulating roof is the Spanish phrase, estamos aquí (“We are here”), a nod to the many Spanish-speaking residents who have moved into the area.

“We decided to do the pushpin as a statement about putting our neighborhood on the map,” said artist and Baltimore Highlands Neighborhood Association co-president Rachel Timmins, who designed the bus stop.

The pushpin was a reference to the icons used on Google Maps, she said, and the phrase was meant to embrace the neighborhood’s diversity.

“We have the most diverse population in Baltimore City but we have a very large Latino population, so we really wanted to highlight that. We want to be inclusive,” said Timmins.

Timmins said her rowhouse neighborhood doesn’t get the same attention from the city as many other communities and doesn’t have many landmarks besides a nearby cemetery.

She said she saw the bus stop as a way to create a new sort of landmark that sends a message about the community and the fact that it’s changing and needs more attention.

The giant pushpin is clearly inspired by the work of Claes Oldenburg and the late Coosje van Bruggen, sculptors best known for public art installations featuring large replicas of everyday objects, from a pair of binoculars in southern California to a spoon that becomes a bridge in Minneapolis.

Timmins said she used bright red for the pushpin because it’s a powerful, vibrant color. The “pin” is actually a repurposed light pole turned upside down, and the red top is made of a synthetic stucco material.

The shelter itself is a utilitarian structure with metal posts, a wooden bench, and an open space for someone in a wheelchair. Its roof undulates like a fluttering piece of paper that needs to be held down by a pushpin.

Pinning down something that might otherwise scatter to the wind could also be a metaphor for the community itself.

“This is one of the most heavily used bus stops in the city, but it’s also a drug market,” Timmins said. “We’re hoping that by putting this here, it’s a way of reclaiming the space for the community that lives here…The neighborhood has been neglected by the city for so long. This is a way of saying, ‘Hey, we matter. Hey, city, pay attention to us.’”

The intersection of Baltimore Street and Highland Avenue was selected as the setting for the artwork, Timmins said, because it’s a busy location, serving four city bus routes. From the start, it has gotten heavy use.

As soon as the artists completed their installation, people started gathering under the pushpin shelter to wait for their buses.

“I love it,” said Laura Irvizu, who lives nearby.

“Seeing this sign here, it makes us feel like we’re a part of the community,” she said. “Most of the time, we feel invisible. Seeing this message in Spanish, it feels like someone cares.”

The project is a collaboration of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, local residents and artists of the Highlandtown Arts District and Association.

The bus stop design won a $25,000 PNC Transformative Art Prize for 2015. Timmins collaborated with two other artist-engineers, Kyle Miller and Tim Scofield, to fabricate the shelter, mostly off-site.

Her work has been shown in numerous exhibitions, both nationally and internationally, and in many publications, including Unexpected Pleasures from Rizzoli, Contemporary Jewelry in Perspective published by Lark Books, and Jewel Book: International Annual of Contemporary Jewelry Art published by Stichting Kunstboek.

Miller and Scofield are Baltimore sculptors who collaborated last year with the Madrid design collective Mmmm… to create another sculpture in nearby Highlandtown, a bus stop and pedestrian shelter that consists simply of three letters: B-U-S.

The PNC Transformative Art Prize is a program of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, made possible through a partnership with PNC Bank and Baltimore’s Housing department. Other funding included $5,000 from the Baltimore Community Foundation and $5,000 from Healthy Neighborhoods.

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