by Donna Belt

I was disappointed when I read the headline that Mary-Ann Baldwin wouldn’t be running for another term as city councilor.  Then I read the leading paragraph of the News & Observer article:

Mary-Ann Baldwin, a polarizing figure on the Raleigh City Council who has been supportive of new development near N.C. State University and drew criticism for posting a picture on social media of her dog urinating on a column at the General Assembly, will not seek re-election this fall.

It strikes me that this summary falls far short in capsulizing her decade of innovative and responsive leadership in Raleigh.

Let me tell you my story.

I came to Raleigh after living in Tokyo and London.  I had a lot of ideas, but experience in public art?  Coming from huge cities, not so much. Yet in this small city weighed down by recession when we arrived, I saw possibility in the buildings that were sitting empty.  What if we considered them canvases for public art?

The question was, would anyone else join me in asking, What if?  What if people of all ages and levels of experience could help shape our streetscapes and literally lend their lines and colors to our downtown?  The answer was Mary-Ann Baldwin.

The morning I made my pitch to the board of Triangle Transit to paint a 150 foot mural on the Dillon Supply building on the south end of West Street, I sat over coffee with Mary-Ann, who spent the rest of the morning twisting arms so that by the time I arrived, I saw only smiles.  And that was just the beginning.

It was people like Mary-Ann who fed my desire to keep going.  My focus has always been on the function art serves in our lives as a means to connecting people and allowing them to see themselves as creatively empowered.  This is pretty much the opposite pole from traditional public art that depends on major corporate donors, a pedigree of successful projects and a profit loss statement that goes back for years.  Yet whether it was supporting our Glenwood South neighborhood’s knitting of 150 tree sweaters, or encouraging crosswalk art, Mary-Ann was the person from the city who said, YES! Let’s make this work!  And in every case, she was willing to follow up on a personal level to help streamline the process for me.

I thank Mary-Ann for her championing of individuals and small businesses who ask What if?  To respond as she has constantly responded – balancing good sense with fostering pure potential, she has touched my life, as well as all those who bring innovative, grassroots vision to Raleigh.  She will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.

Please read Part Two of this article:

Glenwood South’s Neighborhood Champion