When Baltimore Jewelry Center (BJC) invited us to plan an installment at their new nonprofit arts center, they wanted us to to help get the word out in their new neighborhood. While BJC has been well-known in the national and international art jewelry world, the residents of North Baltimore who walked by their doors every day were unaware of the amazing programs that BJC offered. We were excited to expand our program to help.

BJC and RJM invited Towson University and Montgomery College’s metal programs to join us along with the professional jewelry community in the region. 155 jewelers collaborated on the project, and over 120 people donated their unwanted jewelry—we estimate that over 10,000 pieces were given!

Since 2007, RJM has encouraged donors to share the stories behind the jewelry they were giving. These stories share the how and why of collecting the pieces, and reveal painful or joyful memories of wearing them. Sometimes people share stories about the burden of hoarding and keeping the jewelry, and share their relief at being able to send us the jewelry knowing it will find a new life and purpose. These stories all tie back to the deep relationship we have with adorning our bodies, and adornment’s significant connection to our identities and individuality.

While we’ve invited this conversation as part of every installment, RJM Baltimore was the first time that the stories behind the collections were front and center. An exhibition put together by the Baltimore planning committee in the summer of 2017 featured donor stories displayed next to select pieces of donated jewelry.  The “unwanted” became a potent reminder and symbol celebrating past desires and identity, as well as vital material for what was to come: RJM’s transformation of these pieces into new jewelry.

To officially launch each project installment, RJM organizes a Kick Off Symposium aimed at bringing participants together and to offer vital information about what it means to use the materials we choose when making jewelry. In Baltimore we had an incredible lineup of speakers that included Brad Brooks Rubens and Annie Calloway from the Enough Project; Shari Parks, Associate Dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming for the College of Arts and Humanities, associate professor of American Studies, and founding director of the Arts and Humanities Center for Synergy at the University of Maryland at College Park; and Jo Briggs, curator of the Walters Museum. Each presenter tackled a different aspect of jewelry, ranging from material sourcing to the inherent cultural connections we have to jewelry, to the historical significance of reusing materials to make jewelry.

Susie Ganch, co-director of RJM, offered a history of RJM and reported on Ethical Metalsmiths Programming we well as essential information about hard rock mining.  Kathleen Kennedy, RJM’s new co-director, offered insight into RJM design strategies when working with the materials given to the project. The event included a lively morning of “make-and-take” sessions for members of the community.

As a community arts education space with a focus on art jewelry and metalsmithing, Radical Jewelry Makeover is a project that has always spoken directly to the core of our mission. The project seeks to bring individuals together around the shared language and history of costume jewelry. While costume jewelry might seem too frivolous to act as a unifying concept, it is one of the most prevalent artifacts in contemporary American culture and is thus a perfect vehicle for bringing people together. Jewelry possesses so many stories: how it is acquired, who has owned it and why, where it has traveled, and those stories, when shared, build meaningful connections. As hosts of RJM, we gave people opportunities to share their stories and artists opportunities to create new work and new stories with the objects that were shared. More than any other project we have hosted, RJM gave us the opportunity to expand our community and connect with individuals in new ways. The project left an impact on our space and our community and an inspired in us an even deeper desire to share our love of jewelry with the broader world.
— Shane Prada, Director of the Baltimore Jewelry Center