Painted on buildings of the Bocek neighborhood in Baltimore, Md. – a stone’s throw from the local Coca-Cola Consolidated bottling plant – are stories of the community’s culture, values and history.

Murals of contemporary community activists boldly greet those who pass the buildings’ brick exteriors, as giant depictions of tulips and black-eyed susans bloom around building corners.

Bocek

Near these murals sprout native trees, flowers and grasses. Solar lights shine on the young growth, illuminating the neighborhood. The local park hosts a pavilion, with tables and benches community gatherings.

This scene is very different than the Bocek of just six months ago, thanks to the work of community activists and a $130,000 donation from Coca-Cola Consolidated.

Bocek Park
Bocek Park, prior to Coca-Cola Consolidated’s refreshment efforts.

When Coca-Cola Consolidated brought one of its facilities to East Baltimore in April 2016, the bottler sought to better integrate itself into its local community than simply through its real estate.

As Christi McGee, Coca-Cola Consolidated’s vice president of community advocacy, explains, “Anywhere you are in America, you will always see two trucks: a mail truck and a Coke truck. That being said, Coca-Cola Consolidated has a responsibility to not just be an employer, but to be an employer who cares about our teammates and their neighborhoods.”

With team members who grew up playing in Bocek Park, which had fallen into disrepair over time, it was a site close to the bottler’s heart. After receiving an enthused response from community leaders, Coca-Cola Consolidated decided to help refresh not only the park, but its surrounding neighborhood.

To ensure that this community engagement was locally meaningful, the bottler partnered with Arts+Parks, a Baltimore-based arts organization that blends street art and purposeful landscaping to create holistic spaces for underserved neighborhoods.

For months, Arts+Parks conversed with community leaders about Bocek’s values and history, developing a beautification plan to honor the community and those helping shape its future.

“When you go into a Baltimore community, they have hope and aspirations, but what you visually see are the neighborhood’s problems,” said Elise Victoria, Arts+Parks’ landscaping director. “Now, with Bocek, you can see their aspirations, culture, history and future. These installations say, ‘you’re from somewhere.’ Bocek is finally reflective of how they’ve felt for so long.”

Finding Home
During and after: “Finding Home.” Designed with locals at the nearby community-loved bodega, this mural depicts the unity of African American and Latino populations working to build a home in east Baltimore. The monarch butterfly symbolizes the migrant history of the community, while the nesting robins are a metaphor for building a safe and secure home.

Rocky Brown, president of the Bocek Community Association, agrees. He says his neighborhood is proud to host murals that depict their own community members.

“People can relate to the murals," Brown adds. "We walk around now and we see how beautiful the park has become. People smile. The atmosphere has changed... It’s not only beautiful, but it’s a new life.”

Rocky Brown
Rocky Brown stands in front of his painted likeness. 

Though the park didn't officially open until April 21, as soon as Nethercut, Arts+Parks’ Art Director, painted hopscotch outlines, kids started to hop. As soon as Coca-Cola provided benches and tables made of recycled materials, families started using them. And as soon as Victoria installed lights among her landscaping, people felt safer outdoors at night.

Landscape Installation
One of Victoria’s landscape installations sits beside Coca-Cola-donated benches.

“Coca-Cola gave us the opportunity to develop a community project the way the community wanted," Nethercut says. "Someone didn’t step in and say, ‘you have to do this.’ It was community-sponsored artistic space-making and landscape development done in a natural way.”

Maxine Lynch, a vocal Bocak advocate, adds, “Not only did Coca-Cola see the vision we’ve put forth, but they’re helping make it come true.”