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Festival Season: Shinning a new light on Baltimore City

Mario Moore

Light City Baltimore, a festival of lights. music and innovation, hopes to put Baltimore on the map as a social innovation hub of the country. On the last day of the festival, Light City Co-founder, Jamie McDonlad said that Light City Baltimore should be what SXSW is for Austin or Art Basel for Miami, attracting visitors from all over the world. As one of the largest international light festivals in the country, the free week-long event aims to shine a positive light on the city.  Now in its second year, the festival used neighborhood light art installations, performances, music and creative dialogues to inspire innovation through our the city.

As if light art isn't already dope enough, the Labs@Light City looked at innovation through different social factors like health, design, and food. This year I got to check out the Food Lab@Light City on the last day of the festival. I’m glad I got out to the rest of festival earlier in the week because the Inner Harbor was jam packed on that last night. I’m sure the festival easily cleared the 400,000 visitors from last year.

A major goal of the Labs@Light City was to highlight on emerging voices by pairing them with established thinkers. The stacked program kept my attention all day.

Cheff Jeff Henderson and Chef Bryce Taylor pose after their session at Food Lab@Light City 

Food Network’s, Chef Jeff Henderson teamed up with  Baltimore teen and “Chopped Junior” Finalist Chef Bryce Taylor to create a meal and share his story about the streets, the prison system and the power of food. It was really dope to see how his mind works, mostly because I was amazed at how he would pause his story shoot a command of two to Bryce and pick right back up where he left off. Chef Henderson opened the show with the story of the plight of the Black man and I was awake from that moment forward.

Rev. Dr. Heber Brown tells us how simple it is at the Food Lab@Light City

Baltimore pastor, Rev. Dr. Heber Brown, took the stage to talk about the Black Church Food Security Network that he started in response to the food shortages in certain communities  shortly after the uprising in response to the death of Freddie Gray. The network supports a local food system anchored in the church and therefore rooted in community. I was most impressed and glad that Pastor Heber held up Ms. Maxine a community elder that kept the operation in motion. He made sure it was known that without a champion like Ms. Maxine, replication would not be successful.

Aisha Pew responding to a question during the Food Lab@Light City telling the Mayor and the people with money to just give the money to the community. We got it!

Aisha Pew, co-owner of Dovecote Café in Baltimore brought a lot of real insight into her panel on The Human Centered Food Business. I almost wish she would have moderated the discussion because she had so much wisdom to share. Even most of the questions were directed at her. The cafe is a community nest that is fighting to bridge old and new communities as the neighborhood  shifts to a more “desirable” area.  

Devita Davison sharing the strengths and capacity of authentic community driven efforts during the Food Lab@Light City.

Devita Davison, interim-executive director of the FoodLab in Detroit moderated a discussion between some Baltimore-based food businesses impacting economic opportunity for Baltimore City residents. Devita did a great job highlighting the work that the panel was doing but did an ever better protecting the other panelist by pointing to the ways they were supporting community. I appreciated that she was very upfront about systemic issues like oppression and limited access to resources that contributed to some of the missing voices in some of their spaces. 

You can't see her because she sunk so far in her seat but a former student of mine had zero interest in Chef Marcus Samuelsson and his Salmon. He tried so many times. 

The headliner of the event was award winning Chef Marcus Samuelsson. He told the story of his humble beginnings and how it influenced his relationship with food, but I couldn't repeat any of it if I tried. I was bouncing around the room taking pictures like I was on staff. Somebody actually offered me a gig during his session. I knew I was a fan but the swiftness in which a picture was snapped when I looked up and he was 2 feet away from me waiting to go on stage made me realize the fandom was real. However, the grimace on his face in that shot made me feel a little weird, but I’m just gonna call it his “game face”. 

The Light City festival was great for what it was. They created a marketing tool used to paint a new filter on Baltimore; a safer, trendier, improved, dare I say healing, [read whiter] Baltimore. I walked away wondering why there wasn’t a blacker focus on Baltimore at the Food Lab@Light City but I commend them for the effort they did make. They gave the visitors just enough grit to make it appealing and remind them where they were but not enough to make them regret their decision.

I went for the art and free food but left with some cool folks to add to my mental rolodex. Inspiration for innovation is all around us.

Eat to Live