Thousands taste ArtScape's spicy cultural stew City's 12th art festival served up piping hot

July 26, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer Staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

In the air above Mount Royal Avenue, the horn choruses of Zim Zemarel's big band mixed with the thumping bass line of reggae from Zebulon and the Fullness, and the scent of soft-shell crabs met the tang of Cajun chicken.

The pungent cultural stew called ArtScape was served up to urbanites and suburbanites by the thousands yesterday, on a muggy day that was pure Baltimore summer.

For Pete Dean, 64, a city roads worker in a blue baseball cap leaning on a stone wall to listen to the Zemarel band, it was a first ArtScape.

"Other years, I've always been off fishing or something," he said. "This is great. I like listening to the old-time favorites. I want them to play 'Your Cheatin' Heart.' "

It was the third ArtScape for Ken Jones, 31, who stopped by the Nyammin's Karibi Kafe stand to pick up some Jamaican jerk chicken, a scarce dish in his town of Elkridge. He and his wife, Nancy, were pushing 7-month-old Keara through the throngs, looking over the artists' installations that had turned Mount Royal's median strip into a sculpture garden.

"You see things and people here you don't see anywhere else," Mr. Jones said.

Ta-nehisi Coates, 17, manned the book stand of his father's Black Classic Press, a small Baltimore publishing house that rescues and reprints rare and obscure books on African-American themes. Among the books on display were a biography of the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and a reference work explaining African names.

"I guess I've read almost all of them," said Ta-nehisi, who will enter Howard University in the fall.

There were plenty of retreats from the humidity. In the Lyric Opera House lobby, teams of children built stunning models of Baltimore's historic buildings from plastic blocks. In the Moot Court Room at the University of Baltimore Law Center, legal debate was stilled for a few hours of poetry and prose.

If the organizers' count of the sprawling, shifting crowd was to be credited, it was the biggest draw since ArtScape was invented 12 years ago. Clair List, director of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, said police estimated that 125,000 people visited the festival Friday and 475,000 Saturday. Yesterday's crowd appeared to be still bigger, she said, bringing total attendance to more than 1 million for the three-day event.

"It brings together diverse segments of the community in a non-threatening, fun atmosphere," Ms. List said.

She said workers were surveying the crowd, taking ZIP codes in an attempt to define the audience for the annual event.

But it was clear ArtScape's net was cast wide, partly thanks to Light Rail, which did a steady business all weekend bringing people from distant suburbs.

For Charmaine DePriest, 62, driving into Baltimore from her Glen Burnie home means traffic she doesn't want to fight and hassles she doesn't need.

She and four family members chose to hop Light Rail at Linthicum for the ride to ArtScape, her second Light Rail ride ever.

"As a senior citizen, I find this marvelous," Ms. DePriest said. "This is the first time I've considered going into the city to shop."

At the Timonium station, Light Rail's northern terminus, many of the ArtScape-goers were clearly new to the system, and small lines formed as they tried to fathom the ticket machines.

Among those boarding in Timonium at noon yesterday were people who had driven 20 minutes from the northeast suburbs of White Marsh, Perry Hall and Rosedale to board the train rather than risk downtown traffic.

"It's just so much more convenient," said Angela Sheldon, 33, of Perry Hall, an out-of-work software engineer, accompanied by her children, 4-year-old Morgan Krach and 20-month-old Tim Krach. "And you don't have to pay five bucks for parking."

Dianna Rosborough, a state Mass Transit Administration spokeswoman, said MTA had no accurate ridership counts.

She said officials roughly estimated that there were 9,000 Light Rail commuters to ArtScape Saturday and 7,000 yesterday. If accurate, those totals are two or three times the ridership for an Orioles baseball game and close to the record ridership the night of the All-Star game, when 7,500 people bought tickets and an unknown additional number rode with passes, Ms. Rosborough said.

"We hope they'll see how easy and convenient it is and become regular riders," she said.

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