Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975 – 1980

Media - 1983.63.998 - SAAM-1983.63.998_1 - 55235

Joan Clark Netherwood, Two views of the "I am an American Day" parade, East Baltimore Street., 1977, gelatin silver print, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.998

To celebrate the bicentennial of the country’s founding, in 1976 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched a multi-year program of photography surveys in communities across the United States. These surveys created a new visual record of a changing nation. Survey projects included preserving or working with historical collections; however, most were commissions of new work by an emerging generation of documentarians, many of whom became prominent figures of American photography. Of the more than seventy projects funded by the NEA, the East Baltimore Survey was unique for having been conceived, led, and carried out by women photographers—Elinor Cahn, Joan Clark Netherwood, and Linda Rich. With significant support from the community, it was also one of the most highly acclaimed at a national level.


In her application to the NEA for support, project leader Linda Rich wrote that “Today, while many urban communities seem to be fighting a losing battle against physical, emotional, and spiritual decay, East Baltimore continues to grow and change, preserving its culture, integrity, and humanity.” Rich, Netherwood, and Cahn approached local clergy, and were invited to attend bingo luncheons, exercise classes, first communions, and sauerbraten suppers. In time they were welcomed into the homes and private lives of the neighborhood of East Baltimore. They photographed a cross-section of its residences and businesses, celebrating its traditions while also acknowledging its many challenges. The tension between ethnicity and Americanness was a sustained theme of the Survey, as was its recognition of residents’ fight for their community’s survival, insisting on basic social services and defending against efforts to divide it politically or economically.

In 1983, 1,500 photographs by NEA grant recipients were received by SAAM in a transfer that inaugurated its photography collection. A second transfer of 500 prints took place in 2010. Thirteen of the completed photography surveys, including the East Baltimore Survey, were among the material received by SAAM. Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975-1980 is the first presentation of those photographs. In addition, while preparing for the exhibition shortly before her death, Joan Netherwood recovered a complete “community exhibition” of the East Baltimore Survey. These were small-scale exhibitions held in churches and community centers, where the photographers showed their progress and their subjects brought pot-luck dinners and stood beside their portraits. They were “trust-raising” events In a community renowned for its suspicion of outsiders. The thirty recovered prints were donated by Netherwood to SAAM, and they are the featured centerpiece of Welcome Home.

The exhibition, SAAM’s first presentation of these photographs, is organized by John Jacob, McEvoy Family Curator for Photography, with Vitoria Bitencourt and Krystle Stricklin, curatorial assistants. Vitoria Bitencourt’s work at the museum was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities; Krystle Stricklin’s work was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Visiting Information

July 16, 2021 January 23, 2022
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m.
Free Admission



Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975-1980 is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support has been provided by the Gene Davis Memorial Fund, the Margery and Edgar Masinter Exhibitions Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

The logo of the National Endowment for the Arts
The logo of the National Endowment for the Humanities
The logo of the Smithsonian's Women's History Initiative

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

SAAM Stories

Group of senior citizens celebrating Fourth of July in front of a home.
Curator John P. Jacob reflects on his recent conversations with the photographer Joan Clark Netherwood, her legacy, and the East Baltimore Documentary Photography Project
A black and white photograph of a person leaning out of a window, holding an umbrella.
A close exploration of a resilient community through the lens of three women photographers

Educational Resources

Media - 1983.63.1012 - SAAM-1983.63.1012_1 - 55121

The Smithsonian American Art Museum collaborated with Voices of 21217, a program that amplifies youth voices in Baltimore. Together they encouraged students to examine and photograph their own changing communities. As a result of this collaboration, the museum’s educators refined a comprehensive set of lesson plans for students in grades 6–12 to strengthen their visual literacy, historical thinking, and analysis skills.

View Educational Resources

Read More About SAAM's Collaboration with Voices of 21217
Eye Level, August 31, 2021, "Creating Authentic Community Collaboration"
Eye Level, September 2, 2021 "Centering Black Youth Voices in Baltimore"

Online Gallery


Elinor Cahn
born Baltimore, MD 1925-died Baltimore, MD 2020
Joan Clark Netherwood
born York, SC 1932-died Joppa, MD 2021
Linda Rich
born Cleveland, OH 1949-died Los Angeles, CA 1998