When Artscape rises from the Baltimore streets, do you run to the hills, or go “downy oshun” to avoid it, or embrace its sights and sounds and aromas? Artscape is the biggest free open air art festival in the country. It usually falls on the hottest day of the summer and causes all kinds of traffic but also brings a smile to tens of thousands of participants’ faces. To enjoy Artscape you must also enjoy large, jostling crowds, festival food, hot tents with all kinds of surprises, like clothes, paintings, photography, jewelry, pottery and oh so much more – it may also be helpful to have an eclectic taste in music. This year twelve bands will be performing rock, reggae, alternative, hip hop, blues, and neo soul. You can experience an array of performing arts including theater, opera, film, and dance. There are visual art exhibits throughout the area, family events, children’s entertainers, and street theater.
Personally, I’m a runner. All of those experiences mentioned above? Too much sensory input for me, too large a venue. I tend toward biophilia. But I’m a curious runner. I don’t take my vacation at this time like some people do, to avoid the confusion. No, I like to come to work and watch the progression; from the extra wires being hung weeks before, to the port-o-potties being delivered, right up to the smell of the sausages being grilled. It’s like being the first one to arrive at a party when it’s quiet and a bit awkward then watching it grow into a throng of happy celebrants! But that’s it. Five o’clock Friday I’m outta here, if not before. All weekend I am aware that Artscape is happening. I usually make note of the weather and hope that people are not fainting in the streets and I’ll watch the crowds on the evening news.
After it’s over, it is always interesting to return to work and see the aftermath. You never know which streets will be reopened. Stacks of tent rigging and barricades lie scattered on sidewalks. One year when they created a food court on the old UB flat surface parking lot, the vendors had dumped their grease which made for a smelly, slick mess that the city had to clean several times before the lot could be used for parking again. On a positive note, I always look forward to the MICA students’ art along Mt. Royal Ave. Most installments and sculptures remain in place for months and create a whimsical/radical/art accessible atmosphere in the area. Over the years many installments have been interactive and child-friendly, and as they sit there inert, I can feel the residual energy and hear the phantom squeals of glee.
So, if you happen to attend Artscape, buy some jewelry, stay cool, and interact with the art, like pinch a street performers butt or something! They like that, don’t they? Probably not, but maybe I’ll see you on the news.
Carol A. Vaeth