What’s up with Artscape? Pay attention on Oct. 20

A clown copes at the 1982 first Artscape (Baltimore Sun)

After a three-year hiatus and, before that what seemed to be a steady march away from an emphasis on art to one of food trucks, it appears that Artscape will return in 2023, probably next September.

Exactly when is still unclear. With some fanfare, BOPA (Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts), the city’s quasi-public arts agency, in August announced plans to re-create “a bold, ambitious festival with a singular focus on the arts: an Artscape that is more accessible to everyone, and one that brings a lasting impact to communities in our city.” It was scheduled for five days instead of the usual three: Sept. 13-17. 

Then someone noticed that Rosh Hashanah overlaps with those dates, which quickly were scrubbed from the Artscape website. “In response to the concerns of our constituents, we are taking another look at the dates for the 2023 festival. We will be making our official Artscape announcement on the afternoon of October 20,” the agency announced. Greater Baltimore has a large concentration of Jewish residents. 

Historically, Artscape has drawn as many as 350,000 participants from the region. Its organizers used to boast that it was the largest free cultural event in the country. BOPA’s latest director has tried to make major changes, including the timing and location of the festival. It historically has stretched from Mt. Royal Avenue around MICA, where planning for the first festival began, to Penn Station and north and south up Charles Street. 

It always has taken place in the summer. According to the Baltimore Sun, the first Artscape in June 1982 brought two days of non-stop rain and only 62-degree high temperatures. Paintings and other art exhibits were drenched. An outdoor concert by Ray Charles had to be moved. The late jazz singer Ethel Ennis performed with a 17-piece band in the rain. More recently late-July Artscapes have coincided with the most humid and hot days of the season.

City council member Eric Costello worked to shoot down BOPA’s plan to decentralize Artscape and move much of it away from Bolton Hill, Charles Village and Mt. Vernon, in his district. The Oct. 20 announcement will, presumably, indicate the entertainers, arts programs and boundaries, but it seems likely that Artscape 2023 will center on the Station North Arts district, a short walk east from Bolton Hill. That should ease parking pressures on Bolton Hill.

Bill Hamilton