Baltimore editorial interns Elizabeth Laseter and Megan Richards had never been to Artscape before. We encouraged them to go and write up their thoughts on what has become the largest free, public arts festival in the country.
After hearing so much about Artscape, I finally had the chance to attend this past weekend—and I wasn’t disappointed. What I loved most about Artscape was its appeal to all ages and the enthusiasm for Baltimore it projected.
Along the median of Mount Royal Avenue was one of my favorite sights, an exhibit called “Here, There, Anywhere.” Works by 26 different artists, many from cities in Maryland, were featured. Each artist received a 40 inch, high and 24 inch wide white pedestal, on which they could create anything they imagined. I especially liked the “Orange Puff,” which consisted of bright orange and yellow stuffed pillows stacked on top of each other. I also admired a dolphin sculpture crafted entirely from grocery store bags.
A giant baseball game peanut (almost 6 feet tall!) caught my eye, too. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was supposed to mean, but I liked it. Another sculpture, where the artist had placed sheets of mirrors together at different levels, resulted in a distorted perspective of the world around me. I took some crazy photos of my reflection in the mirrors.
I watched a street performer on a flaming skateboard jump over three terrified men lying on the ground, took a turn on a tire swing, made a rocket-shaped hat out of construction paper and duct tape, and even got a free beach ball. I can’t forget the array of funkily decorated cars (including one with mannequin parts all over it). And most deliciously, were the food vendors: I saw some big Baltimore names, like Taharka Brothers Ice Cream and Stuggy’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs and Sausages. I purchased a pulled pork sandwich from a vendor selling “South Carolina BBQ,” unable to resist the pull of my Southern roots. (I grew up in North Carolina.) However, I am not even sure if this pork could really qualify as BBQ. It was overpoweringly spicy, too skimpy with its vinegar base, and the bun was soggy. Clearly, this was a disastrous sandwich. Next time, I’ll go with Stuggy’s.
Sandwich catastrophe aside, I loved running around the festival with my friends, seeing and experiencing as much as I could. From wacky ornamented automobiles to a giant baseball peanut (yes, this was art!), Artscape captured Baltimore and the simple pleasure of imagination and fun.
I have never been to a festival or street fair where I was asked to throw a potato at a target in order to pie a man in the face. Well, I had never been to one, until I went to Artscape. As a first-time Artscape attendee I expected to hear some live music, view sculptures and paintings by MICA students, and maybe browse the different vendors to shop for handmade jewelry. No big deal. But Artscape exceeded my expectations.
I have never seen art, music, and creativity bond such a variety of different types of people: from shirtless frat boys to dreadlocked hula-hooping women, everyone seemed to get along famously making the festival a positive representation of the proud loyalty Baltimoreans feel towards their city. The rich history and culture is often overlooked by city-outsiders, but the festival truly demonstrated the artistic bounty Baltimore has to offer.
One mural, created by a few MICA students, stood out to me: Painted on four panels of plywood, the mural captured Baltimore trademarks like the Domino sugar sign, a Baltimore Hon, The Hippodrome, and Lexington Market. Baltimore singer-songwriter Caleb Stine sat beside the giant mural, and informed me that it had been inspired by the Baltimore Song Project, which he and hip-hop artist Saleem Heggins collaborated on to create a city song. The musical piece, in turn, inspired the MICA students. I was struck by the images of the different Baltimore communities. The “Baltimore Hon” panel resonated with me and made me smile, as Hampden is one of my favorite hoods. The other communities looked good, too, though, and the mural made me want to visit them.
One of my favorite things about Artscape was the amount of hands-on activities it offered. Kids could go to the Target center where they had the opportunity make their own wind chimes and play with Legos. Adults and kids alike could create their own comic strips, and hang their comics alongside one another on a large glass-plane wall. The comics, many impressively illustrated with cleverly crafted stories, could be enjoyed by other festival-goers. If getting physical is what you enjoy, then you may have preferred the hand-painted skateboarding ramp, where skaters of all levels weren’t afraid to make fools of themselves while performing jumps and board tricks. The interactive games and creative opportunities made the festival vibe more personal, encouraging Baltimoreans to share and express their creativity, not merely marvel at the imaginings of others.
I also saw a live, improv air guitar performance atop a skull-headed vehicle, sampled enough macaroni and cheese and chocolate cereal bars to last me a lifetime, and heard the Cold War kids play. I particularly liked seeing attendees break into dance when they recognized a favorite song.
You didn’t have to be a diehard art-lover to enjoy the festival atmosphere and optimism of the city. Artscape really enabled me to appreciate the local art, but it also made me feel really fortunate to be living in a city where the people aren’t afraid to scream loudly and proudly in the name of Bawlmore.