After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a master’s degree in community arts, 2010 OSI-Baltimore fellow Sarah Tooley wanted to commit her skills and knowledge to work with community leaders in strengthening East Baltimore‘s Better Waverly neighborhood.
Empowered by the dedication and passion for social justice through youth development she noticed in longtime residents, Tooley worked to continue to use art as a platform to strengthen the community through 901 Arts. A community art center founded by parents and adults, the organization offers free art, music, and dance programming for local youth. Tooley’s efforts to increase programming and develop a more cohesive system of internal organization, has helped 901 Arts continue to be an important part of the Better Waverly community, she says.
For Tooley, having a program like 901 Arts is especially important in the Better Waverly neighborhood as it connects residents to resources, and offers outsiders the ability to learn about and connect to the many, often under-represented assets within the community. It also serves the purpose of connecting neighbors to each other across real or perceived differences.
“It’s a huge resource for the community. Art can be used as a tool to transform the city environmentally, economically, and socially,” Tooley says.
From helping beautify local community gardens to stepping up into leadership roles in the community, Tooley has seen the youth with whom she works take what they’ve learned at 901 Arts and give back to the Better Waverly neighborhood. One of her favorite moments was having a youth step up into a leadership role by not only suggesting relevant and new programming ideas but offering to lead the program through facilitation and outreach.