He’s gone from running between the tackles, to running out of paint, but Baron Batch has always adapted to the challenges he’s faced.
Batch was drafted as a running back by the Steelers in 2011, but a torn ACL during training camp waylaid him and he retired from football in 2013. His true passion was always to be a full-time artist.
For years, he built a community around Studio AM in Homestead. Now, he’s the Resident Artist — a newly created position at the rebranded SouthSide Works.
“I live and work in the South Side,” says Batch. “I want to see people doing good things and creating good things here. If I can help that along and bring everyone together in the process, that’s what I’m all about.
“By partnering in this way, we’re also creating a blueprint for a new kind of placemaking and community-building and that’s what is really compelling for me. In general, on a national level, city planning needs to have more of a cultural focus — it’s sorely lacking. We’re flipping the script on how people engage and connect with these type of spaces. This is the new way.”
The SouthSide Works Residency will include a gallery exhibition called The Residency located at 2708 Sydney St. featuring Batch’s bold, bright artworks, which often feature images of animals and inspirational text. A soft opening is planned for the end of the month.
“One day you can walk in, roll up your sleeves and paint with your neighbors,” says Batch. “The next day, you could swing by for an exhibition and live music. We’re just doing what feels right at the time, and that in and of itself is what will keep it interesting.”
Batch is known for his “art drops,” where he leaves a piece of art somewhere in public and posts its location on social media. It’s free to the first person to find it. His works have even been found as far away as Nashville and Miami.
“It is a spontaneous scavenger hunt situation where a piece of art is hidden somewhere with a clue to where it is — finders keepers,” explains Batch. “They also happen without clues where people may just discover them on a walk or something like that. But the concept of what an ‘art drop’ is and what it can be will be expanding greatly this year to other countries and cities all over the world.”
Batch has painted a number of murals around the city, some with permission, some without. While he’s been arrested and has paid fines for graffiti, he also ended up painting a mural with his arresting officer.
Right now, it’s a relentless work ethic that keeps him on the righteous path.
“The Residency space will house a large body of original art, and will be in constant rotation and refreshment of new works,” says Batch. “Over the past three years, I have been incredibly prolific in the studio producing several thousand pieces of work each year. After the ‘art drops,’ and work that has sold, I currently have around 800 to 1,000 unseen works at varying stages of completion. Work will be available for purchase, but I am very happy to be able to show the paintings in a space where people can experience them in person.”
It’s a one-year residency, which will also feature the talents of WH Digital Agency, a co-op of freelancers.
“We’ll be announcing programming and events a few different ways — some will be laid out in advance and others will be something we just throw out there, spur of the moment and, of course, we always encourage anyone who’s interested to just pop into the gallery,” says WH Digital’s Marketing Director Maddi Love.
SouthSide Works’ new owner, New York-based SomeraRoad, is overseeing a transformation of the properties. Though SouthSide Works’ residential projects and office spaces have been successful — attracting strong tenants like American Eagle and Amazon’s engineering office — the retail component has struggled with vacancies.
This month, SomeraRoad is starting work on the Box Office project, which will turn the site’s former movie theater into 77,000 feet of Class A, high-tech office space. Later this year, they will break ground on a riverfront project that will offer 200,000 square feet of office space and 230-multi-family housing units. Batch will be contributing to public art initiatives throughout the SouthSide Works footprint.
“As we continue to reimagine SouthSide Works, it’s partners like Baron and WH Digital that will truly make this property a community asset,” says SomeraRoad Director Jonathon Reeser. “His input has been invaluable and the addition of his creative energy on property is going to be transformative. SouthSide Works is poised to be a true center for community, culture and innovation.”