As Baltimore City wades through the remnants of a tropical storm no one could have predicted as statistically likely and begins to process a memorably frenzied fall Artscape weekend, one has to wonder, could this sort of thing be done better?
The answer is: yes. It has and was.
Whartscape managed to coordinate and operate a DIY summer festival over the course of several years, growing over time. I managed to attend each one, and was impressed by the discipline of those putting it together. Running and coordinating a festival, even one featuring Arab on Radar and Santa Dads, is no easy job. I would watch those involved begin to huddle and plan and sweat each year. There was a rule among some in the crew that one could not say the name of the festival out loud, making it a bit of Fest-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in the months leading up to that weekend in July.
But each year, the product of their labor was excellent. Bands like Oxes got to reunite in front of an appreciative hometown audience. Double Dagger brought the house down via their set in 2007. Talks from Ian Mackaye, plays by Lola Pierson, the final performance by Ponytail before they went on hiatus… just varied and wondrous things, jam-packed into one weekend year after year until it was decided to bring the event to a halt, sticking the landing, knowing when to stop.
How did they do it? They realized the same thing that the organizers of the recent inaugural Waverly Book Festival realized: you don’t need anyone but yourselves. No point in waiting around. Just get it done.
Sure, I would love for there to be a healthy cultural ecosystem in this place I live, funded by my tax dollars. I would love for there to be a functional city agency putting on these events. I hear rumors that other cities may have such organizations, but I would have to investigate further to know for sure.
The reality is that I live in Baltimore in 2023.
And in Baltimore, we have always made do with what we have and done it ourselves. The city can’t even get weekly recycling pick-up together, for Pete’s sake!
But to dwell on the negative is to waste time. We can do it. We can pull it off together. It is natural to lapse into pessimism and frustration from time to time, some real “3AM Sad Boi hours” energy for sure. But the key is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
A big “thank you” to any and all who are working to make things happen or have made wondrous DIY things happen in the past. Now… let’s get this bread. Who’s got a generator? Who’s got a PA?