In December 2014, the artist Valeska Populoh and I crossed paths in our local grocery store and she filled me in on a crankie (hand-cranked storytelling device) that she was creating that is inspired by the struggles of the community located on Fairfield Peninsula in the Baltimore neighborhood known as Curtis Bay. She was conducting a detailed historical study and applying her visual talent to the telling of an environmental tale that ultimately became “The Holey Land: An Allegory.” I offered my services to write the score, and luckily for me, she accepted.
“The Holey Land” is an allegory about the powerful connection between people and the place they call home. In this tale, the Peninsula People and the magic in their land are threatened when a stranger shows up with big ideas for ‘improving’ their community. As storybook images scroll by, the beautiful peninsula gets devoured by buildings and factories, and the Peninsula People are left to ponder the fate of their land. The story ends with a surprising twist, and a hopeful message about a community’s ability to determine their own future.
Told using a crankie, or wooden box that contains a long scroll of paper with illustrations, the story is inspired by the environmental history of the Fairfield Peninsula, near Curtis Bay in south Baltimore. Once fertile land that supplied produce to the booming metropolis of Baltimore, and later home to company towns and tight knit communities, the peninsula was transformed by opportunistic development, and devoured by heavy industry in the 20th century.
The communities of Baybrook, close to this peninsula, are currently threatened by the proposed construction of the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator. A coalition, led by the United Workers and Free Your Voice, has formed to stop the incinerator and propose solutions that support the health and well-being of these communities. This story was developed as a way to engage communities in conversations about this issue and developing positive alternatives to the incinerator.
Thanks to the Ruby Grants-Performing and Media Arts, the Puffin Foundation, and Valeska Populoh, I will be spending the next year conceptualizing, filming, editing and producing a short film that uses Valeska’s crankie as its source material. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to explore my filmmaking ideas and expand my video production skills. Stay tuned!
We will also continue to perform the piece live for schools, festivals and interested organizations.