In 2011, at age 24, Shawn Burnett founded Walks of Art. Walks of Art is a non-profit organization that exposes Baltimore youth to a broader world through art. It also provides a safe space for free and individualistic expression, a safe harbor from the pressures many young people feel to conform, especially in the often difficult to navigate low-income environments of Baltimore City.
Burnett’s formal introduction to art occurred when his mother, Monique Burnett, took him out of the Baltimore Public School System and enrolled him at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School in Baltimore County. At Sudbrook, Burnett was introduced to a variety of art forms, including photography, painting, and ceramic pottery. This formal engagement with art, coupled with regular day trips with his mother to parks and other cities, exposed Burnett to a world broader than the boundaries of his West Baltimore home.
Though he did not always appreciate his mother’s efforts to broaden his horizons – preferring as a teenager to spend time with his friends – he has come to appreciate the value of what was imparted to him. “If you’re able to be exposed to something different than your neighborhood or your community, that may open up potential opportunities that you may have never thought that you had or just give you a different outlook on certain aspects of life,” said Burnett in an interview with the AFRO.
Walks of Art had its genesis in a fashion show/art exhibition that Burnett was helping to organize on behalf of a cousin, an artist and fashion designer based out of New York. Burnett sought to raise funds from local businesses and community leaders for the endeavor, but quickly realized that collecting donations would require the shelter of non-profit status, enabling donors to claim their donations as charitable contributions.
Burnett shifted gears and incorporated Walks of Art as a 501(c)(3) organization, realizing this enables him to raise funds and to direct that money towards meeting pressing community needs.
For Fanon Hill, executive director of the Youth Resiliency Institute in Baltimore and a Walks of Art board member, “Shawn’s greatest walk of art is his walk as a family man.
As a young Black father Shawn understands the important role that art plays in the healthy identity formation of Black children and youth.”
To that end, Burnett uses Walks of Art to provide a space in which Baltimore City youth can express who they are through their art. “Those who feel they may have an interest in something different to what their cohorts have, you can come and
be in a safe forum, a safe environment where you’ll be free of ridicule or anybody looking at you or feeling some type of way about you, and you can just express yourself however you want to,” Burnett said.
In addition to being an important tool for identity formation in Black youth, art is also a medium through which Burnett can help introduce young persons to a broader world, much as his mother did for him. “Art is culture so you can expose to varying cultures through art,” said Burnett. “Maybe you may change their thought process on some stereotypes, or they learn things that they never knew, or see people who are just like them who are artists, who are doing these things.”
Anyone interested in upcoming Walks of Art events, or who would like to volunteer, make a donation, or book Burnett for workshops or speaking engagements may reach him at shawn@ walksofart.org or at 410-343-9255.