“Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975–1980” at SAAM
In 1976, to celebrate the bicentennial of the country’s founding, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) launched a multi-year program of photography surveys in communities across the United States to capture a visual record of a changing nation. Of the more than 70 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. To capture the neighborhood of East Baltimore, the photographers became a part of the community themselves and were welcomed into the homes and private lives of members of the neighborhood. 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. The East Baltimore Survey is one of 13 complete photography surveys that the Smithsonian American Art Museum received in a transfer from the NEA in 1983. Welcome Home: A Portrait of East Baltimore, 1975-1980 is the first presentation of those photographs.