Walking through Annapolis, it’s difficult to miss the many bright, bold, and towering murals painted across the facades of buildings. Most of these old dirty walls were brought back to life by the accomplished and classically trained oil paint artist, Jeff Huntington also known as Jahru.
To Jeff, who grew up in a family of artists, different locations may have a different style, a different perspective, or a different core subject, but art is a human necessity on par with shelter.
“Art is in line behind water, food, and sleep, but comes even before shelter,” Jeff said before explaining the communicative and expressive power of art. “Art isn’t valued in a lot of places in America, but then people go on vacation to France or Italy to view Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel to take selfies.”
Jeff has traveled around the world sharing his art, but his trained eyes he sees the potential in Annapolis’ art culture, which he helped to start. After Jeff married his now wife, Julia, who he met a decade earlier when they were both students at the Corcoran School of Art, Jeff moved to Annapolis permanently where he met one of his childhood musical idols, Jimi Haha.
“Jimmy was actually my rock like a rock n roll idol of mine. So I went to one of his gigs and very awkwardly and shy, like a little dork, I introduced myself and asked ‘You want to come over to my studio and paint with me?’ Jeff said of the question that sparked an artistic collaboration spanning years and an even longer friendship that led the pair to create T-shirt designs, artwork, and undertake the task of bringing art to Annapolis beginning with Jeff’s first mural in Annapolis.
“One of the first murals Jimmy and I did was on the outside of TheMetropolitan,” Jeff recounted. “So I'm up in a bucket lift when Roberta Pardo walks up and she yells to me. I think she was excited to see some street art since she comes from a street art culture and we became friends that day.”
Jeff then worked with Roberta to connect Urban Walls Brazil artists with Jeff’s art dealers in New York and D. C. to organize a traveling exhibition. Regardless of the artists or the location of the street art mural, Jeff tries to include the local community in the process. In this spirit Jeff created a 501-c3 non-profit called Future History Now to recruit local children to participate in community art projects.
“Kids are gonna be in charge 20, 30, 40 years from now and if we expose them to our projects like transforming an empty wall into street art they're gonna grow up with a different mind set,”We did about 25 mural projects in three continents. When 20. Uh huh. Shame that bars we were getting declined for France and things because Okay, be just cut open on fan page Two bureaus for emergency court, the whole Oh, I turned all just a few street murals.
These public artworks serve as landmarks to those who live and work in the area, but they also serve the more important purpose of bolstering community pride.
“People recognize these places. They don't have to say we're at three Monticello Avenue. No, they say we're at the hummingbird building and the works also become a destination for tourists,” Jeff said, crediting Urban Walls Brazil in particular because the organization brings highly skilled and well-regarded artists to Annapolis to paint. “Urban Walls exposes Annapolis to international street art because Brazil is like ground zero of an international street art world.”
The communicative aspect of art ripples through people when the community is included in the process.
“We did a mural on an old mildewed and graffiti covered concrete wall on Washington Street in Annapolis of Pearl Baily with the kids in that community, that transformed the area which was once home to The Dixie Hotel where famous entertainers, like Pearl, headlined,” Jeff said.. “The area was considered dangerous during the day from 1970 until last year, but after the mural was finished the city put $200,000 into the landscaping in front of it and the community, some who remembered Pearl from her shows in Annapolis, were crying because they were so proud.”
Art has the incredible ability to communicate history, ideas, and feelings without words. It can bring hope and pride to an area that has long been without the positivity these feelings bring.
“Whenever I can, I hope to include the community in public art because it gives them some ownership of the space which is important especially in areas where that has been taken away from residents,” Jeff said. “Thats why I hope, and what Urban Walls Brazil, does for communities and it’s so important to recognize the positivity street art can bring when it’s done thoughtfully and communally.”