Deana Haggag, 26, MICA graduate student

By her own admission, Deana Haggag's first foray into the art world was a failure. As an undergrad at Rutgers University, and unhappy with her pre-med studies, she opened a small gallery in Newark, N.J., that quickly bombed. And its mismanagement was her own fault, she said. "I was ashamed and left for two years," said Haggag. She traveled. Tried new things and enjoyed them all. But the one thing she kept coming back to was art. "I liked everything, all the projects I was seeing," she said. "It didn't matter what city I was in. What I was comfortable with was being in an arts setting." And, surprisingly, she came back to gallery work. In May, she'll be among the first graduates of MICA's new MFA in Curatorial Practice program. Her thesis project has been directing Gallery CA, a contemporary arts space/work space in Greenmount West. There she has found her passion. She gets imaginative projects off the ground, like bringing Whoop Dee Doo, a Kansas City, Mo.-based arts collective, to Baltimore for the first time (funded via Kickstarter). She meets with artists every day but also woos residents to see their work by knocking on door after door. She created a book for Open Walls Baltimore, a street art project in Station North, and launched an art project at Greenmount Cemetery but is also deeply immersed behind the scenes in arts communities, bringing together artists and residents who wouldn't meet otherwise. "There's an entire creative culture here," said Haggag, who lives in Bolton Hill. "The world isn't in as much trouble as we think it is. The solutions we've used in the past, using the minds of artists, architects, designers, innovators -- these are the people I want to spend my life around." And these are the minds she's also helping to cultivate. Haggag started and heads the Baltimore chapter of the Awesome Foundation, an international group that awards $1,000 grants to fund various projects. She calls the Awesome Foundation her favorite thing to do. "I will never be a great art critic or theorist," she said. "But if you tell me what you want, I work my ass off for you." She'll also say that there's no reason for her to leave Baltimore once she graduates. She loves it here, this gleefully weird type of city that, she said, "feels like there's no lifeguard on duty." Her own passions, or perhaps specific arts projects, may lure her away. But the passion she imparted, the gift for mobilization and cooperativeness and driven community building, will remain. "My dream vision is more money being thrown at the arts -- that the money that's here, people have more access to," she said. "There's no reason for empty space, no reason for the squalor."
Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun
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