An enormous, abstracted fox leaps across one building. A stylized girl enigmatically dangles a key in one hand and an open-mouthed metal fish in another. These are just two of the 12 colorful, often surreal murals that now adorn otherwise bland buildings in the 10-block area of the Annapolis Design District—home to design showrooms, consignment shops, and car dealerships.
The murals happened “a little bit by accident and a little bit by destiny,” says Severna Park resident Roberta Pardo, the driving force behind Urban Walls Brazil (UWB), which has imported street artists to paint and lead workshops for children since 2014.
Pardo—a Brazilian-born artist who studied in Brazil and California—was already active in the local arts scene, serving on the board of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County when she was approached to co-curate an exhibit of Brazilian artists at George Washington University. That exhibit’s success inspired her to create UWB, an arts residency program that brings international street artists to Annapolis. The Design District buildings provide ideal canvases for murals, which are created with spray paint, stencils and rollers. Once denigrated as “graffiti,” street art is now an acknowledged art form that transforms urban spaces worldwide.
“Coming from Brazil, I’ve seen the power of art when used as a tool of communication,” says Pardo, who speaks six languages. “Street art is really giving a voice to the people. I try to bring different styles, different stories.” She keeps up with artists on Instagram; with her artistic eye, she looks at a wall and knows exactly which artist will suit the space.
Meanwhile, the Annapolis community has embraced her vision. Each September, the Art in Action—Fall Street Festival celebrates new murals. After watching the process and getting to know the artists, the locals feel pride and ownership in these works of art, notes Pardo, who has her eye on street artists from Mexico and Uruguay this year.
“The murals have created a buzz about the Design District,” says Susan Seifried, vice president of public relations at Visit Annapolis, who’s seen international interest in the street art.
UWB is largely a one-woman show, with Pardo scheduling, transporting and housing the artists. A mother of three, she’s also passionate about bringing artists into schools to share their culture and vision. “The murals are there to be enjoyed, but they’re also there to raise questions,” she says. “For people to understand and to see that there are different ways to see beauty in things.” urbanwallsbrazil.com