This weekend, Artscape returns to Baltimore after a multiple-year pandemic-initiated hiatus. This week, I’d like to take a look back at how we got here.
Artscape began in June 1982 as a way to draw tourists to the city during the summer months, when college students were away and many families tended to spend their vacation/leisure dollars elsewhere. The first headliner was Ray Charles. From there, over the course the next several decades, Artscape grew into what was billed as “America’s largest free arts festival”, a summer Baltimore tradition.
The pandemic waned, and Artscape was cleared to return. It did not. Instead the director of BOPA announced that Artscape would no longer be held in the summer, as the summer was “too hot.”
Is the summer “too hot”? Summers on the east coast of North America have been hot since approximately 19,000 to 29,000 years ago, following the end of the last Ice Age.
The director of BOPA resigned, but the new schedule stuck.
What is BOPA? It is the acronym for The Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. Outside of that, no one knows, really, what it is exactly. Is it public? Is it private? Why does it still exist? Again, no one knows, but many journalists feel confident calling it a “quasi-public agency”. Quasi means “seemingly; apparently but not really”.
An initial controversy in the announcement of the change of summer to fall was the additional announcement that the festival would be held on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah. Many felt that this was “a huge error” and disrespectful to the 100,000 Jewish residents who call the Baltimore area home.
So, instead, the decision was made to move the festival to the weekend of Yom Kippur, the most sacred holiday of the Jewish High Holy Days.
Sticking with the decision by the director who resigned to move the festival from summer to fall also brought up questions about whether the city’s resources would be stretched thin, especially during the always already busy “free fall Baltimore” arts season. Assurances were given that this was not to be the case. In terms of coordination of resources, Mayor Brandon Scott’s chief of staff, Marvin James, was quoted as saying “this is the archetype of how we should be working collaboratively.”
Soon thereafter, Hampdenfest was denied a permit by the city of Baltimore for their annual one-day fall festival, traditionally held on the same weekend of the new date for Artscape 2023, because “they (the City) don’t have the resources to pull off Artscape and an event like this.” Being sensible, wise, and seasoned, the organizers of Hampdenfest made the difficult decision to cancel their event out of respect for all the other events on the fall calendar.
Head’s up, Baltimore! Artscape is back! See you in traffic! I will be the one honking my horn in an arhythmical way in solidary with the High Zero Festival, which will be soldiering on amidst all this, celebrating their 25th anniversary. Here’s hoping for some great opportunities for High Jinx!