Artscape, for better or worse, is coming Sept. 22-24

Artscape, it appears, is really back.

After years of back and forth and political backbiting about where and when and whether it was ever coming back, the city’s Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA) wants you to know that this time it’s really for real.  It is scheduled for Friday Sept. 22 through Sunday Sept. 24, more or less where it always has been held, with the same performance venues and roughly the same hours.

And there is a high-quality video and website produced by BOPA that emphasizes what its BOPA choreographers want everyone to understand: it’s about promoting Baltimore as a stellar art scene. While performers and artists from elsewhere are welcome to pay the fees and promote their work, the spotlight will be on artists, performers and vendors from the Greater Baltimore area.

This will be the 38th Artscape and the first since a mediocre version (food trucks outnumbered serious art and artists) was held on a sultry August weekend in 2019, before anyone had heard about the coming pandemic. The old footprint has been preserved and stretched a little. It runs from Mt. Royal Avenue in Bolton Hill east to Charles Street, stretches from a bit south of Mt. Royal around the Lyric Theater and University of Baltimore, and extends north through the Station North Arts District to include the Ynot Lot and a block or two north of North Avenue.

For Bolton Hill that almost certainly means complications for parking in the neighborhood, with unpermitted visitors taking space, and probable road closures. But it also means lots of free entertainment within walking distance.

If you are an artist, crafts person, performer, clothing designer or food diva thinking of participating, go to for details on how to apply. Early-bird applications are accepted until mid-June and presumably carry some advantages in terms of booth siting and fees. Decisions on who among those early applicants will be accepted will be made in July. Vendors may not sell items that were acquired. They must be “made” or creatively produced. Final applications are due in August.

In the past, Artscape featured more than 200 artists and performers on stages at MICA, U-Baltimore, the Lyric, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and on outdoor stages and street corners. At a BOPA briefing on May 3, staff promised the coming event will include visual art exhibitions, main stage music performances, culinary delights, community gathering spaces, immersive family and youth experiences, an artist marketplace, and more.

For Artscape 2023, art is broadly defined to include dance, theater, visual art and sculpture of all kinds, crafted products, culinary creativity, and fashion clothing “of runway-ready quality,” the sponsors said. They also are looking for what they called participation in “kidscape, teenscape and gamescape” programs. In addition to live musical performers of all types, DJ music will be allowed.

It appears, however, that the Lyric and Meyerhoff halls will have their own, independent performances not formally connected to Artscape as in the past. On Sunday, Sept. 24, new Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Jonathon Heyward will lead the orchestra in a free community concert. It’s unclear what the Lyric is planning. Its calendar shows regular paid evening entertainment the nights of Artscape.

The city has promoted Artscape as both a way to focus on the city’s artistic strengths and as a revenue raiser since the 1980s, claiming that 350,000 people routinely attend. Under Mayors Jack Young and more recently Brandon Scott there has been far more city energy devoted to AFRAM, the African American celebration which the city funds and directs, than to Artscape, hosted by the public-private BOPA.

At one point Scott promised a re-opening of Artscape in 2022, but BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer demurred and prevailed, claiming they did not have the resources to carry it off. City Council member Eric Costello crossed swords with Sawyer last year because city funds allocated for Artscape had not been used for it, and Sawyer had proposed moving Artscape out of Bolton Hill and Mt. Vernon, both in his district. The council reduced BOPA funding.

Earlier this year Scott and Sawyer had a miscommunication – evidently the fault lay in the mayor’s office – and Scott awkwardly but successfully pressured Sawyer to resign. By then BOPA had announced that an expanded Artscape would last five days, instead of three. The days that were announced conflicted with Jewish holy days and were modified and the event shortened.

–Bill Hamilton