The Baltimore Natural Dye Initiative is a multi-agency project that aims to explore the cultural and economic impacts of growing and using natural dyes in our region. The project brings together a diverse network of collaborators and funding partners and is supported by the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland State Arts Council. The project establishes a dye farm at Parks & People Foundation and employs two part-time farmers in order to develop local knowledge related to the growing, processing and use of natural dyes. MICA’s participation supports collaboration with local designers, artists, and businesses, intercultural exchange through visiting artists and lecturers, and experiential learning opportunities through an additional natural dye garden at Hidden Harvest, an urban farm in Greenmount West. The state is providing a combined $350,000 to multiple participating partners to support the pilot project over the course of two years.
As a partner in the initiative, MICA is collaborating with community members and expanding its curriculum within the Fiber Department in order to:
- learn more about the natural dye process and extend their place in the curriculum;
- explore and better understand the ecological benefits and impacts of natural dye use;
- engage with artists, researchers and farmers from the Baltimore community in collaborative learning; and
- investigate the social, historical, and economic implications of the cultivation and use of natural dyes in Baltimore and beyond.
The project involves learning about the cultivation, harvesting and processing of plant matter in order to color cloth, and recognizes that this contemporary process cannot be separated from the histories that precede it. Many natural dyes were highly valued commodity crops. Trade in these goods was thus intertwined with European colonization, the enslavement of people and forced labor in the Americas and Asia.
Acknowledging the gravity of this history, and the project’s geographic location in Baltimore, Maryland, MICA staff and faculty working on this project developed a set of core principles and protocols, centered on racial equity, to guide work on this project and increase transparency and accountability.
MICA’s goals for the project are to fortify local capacity for growing, processing and working with natural dyes. We hope to accomplish this by:
1. Deepening the expertise in our region by supporting local talent and bringing in natural dye practitioners to share their knowledge;
2. Supporting the development of a community dye kitchen and learning space;
3. Developing local markets for natural dye and artisanally produced goods.