Q&A with Michael Owen: Spreading the Love in Baltimore


What do an office building, plumbing store and yoga studio have in common?

They all proudly support the Baltimore Love Project, a series of 20 identical black-and-white murals spaced evenly throughout the city of Baltimore, depicting a silouette of hands spelling out the word "LOVE."

Local artist Michael Owen does almost all of the actual painting himself, working with only one business partner, Scott Burkholder, the executive director of the project. The murals have so far been featured on walls of a Planned Parenthood center, Benjamin Franklin High School and Mt. Washington Arboretum, among other public spaces.

Owen and Burkholder have five murals left to complete. In order to finish the project by the end of the year, they are seeking donations and volunteer support. You can find out more about upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, and how to donate at the project’s website (www.BaltimoreLoveProject.com) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/baltimoreloveproject). There is also a Baltimore Love Project online shop, featuring love-inspired jewelry, t-shirts and home decor. All merchandise sales help fund the project.

We spoke with Owen to learn more about his vision for spreading the love.

What’s the overall goal of this project?

Some neighborhoods in Baltimore are saturated with art, while others have no murals. I’m covering the city democratically with murals: I overlaid a grid of 20 boxes on a map of Baltimore City and looked for wall space in each square. I hope that my artwork will help draw the various communities within Baltimore City together, and that people will be inspired by the murals to express love through tangible acts—whether that’s a small act of camaraderie, or starting a nonprofit for social good.

People ask if they can add some color or make their mural more neighborhood-specific, but that’s totally against the point of the project. I’m working to keep individuality out of this, because that’s not what the project is about; it’s about community.

These are all silhouette murals, because taking away details makes an image accessible to more people. These hands are not African, not white, not Asian. They don’t belong to 20-year-olds, 80-year-olds, or 2-year-olds; they’re not gay, they’re not straight. They don’t have any certain background, they’re just people. Anyone can see a mural that says LOVE, but if they can fit themselves into a work of art, they’ll connect with it on a deeper level.

How do you measure the social impact of your work?

The amount of feedback we’re getting from this project is exciting. Organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and local schools, are asking to partner with us, people are contacting us by email and on Facebook to ask how they can help. A public art project is a call-and-response: I’m putting the ideas out there and the public responds. I love seeing people get inspired: “What does this make me want to do? Does it make me want to tell someone that I love them? Start a nonprofit? Paint my own murals?”

What are the next steps for this project?

When all 20 murals are complete, we’re going to catalogue everything in a book—the project’s backstory, photographs of all the murals, and a collection of stories about the community impact. We throw a party every time we finish a mural, and we have other events to fundraise for the next one.

We’d love to put a mural on a religious institution next. People are yearning for unbiased love, so putting a mural on a religious institution would be very timely. We’re also working to get one on a hospital. We’re going to work with Perry Hall High School later this month. There was a shooting there this August, on the first day of the school year. We’ll be working with the students on a LOVE mural in their school, helping them develop their own image that incorporates the LOVE sign.