Don't confine ethnic festivals Happening city: As weekend events grow and multiply, they should be used to strengthen neighborhoods.

August 22, 1998

LAST WEEKEND illustrated what an exciting mosaic Baltimore is: The Stone Soul picnic brought thousands of African-American revelers to Druid Hill Park, the 98th German Festival took place in Carroll Park and India Day was celebrated at Market Place.

Such a scattering of crowd events throughout the city is encouraging. This year's AFRAM festival underscored that festivals do not need to be downtown to succeed. Its new West Baltimore location around Mondawmin Mall seemed to make everyone happy. Parking was no problem and the mall offered an air-conditioned refuge to those who had had enough of the heat.

Close to three decades ago, ethnic festivals became a popular device to improve Baltimoreans' appreciation for their city and its diversity. At the time, when the Inner Harbor renewal was just beginning, those weekend events gravitated from one construction site to another, calling the public's attention to the waterfront's revival. Later, Festival Hall, built to house such events, provided a downtown location.

After Festival Hall was demolished to make room for the expanded Convention Center, downtown began losing favor among ethnic festivals.

The Germans settled on Carroll Park, which is convenient to visitors from the Washington area; the Polish festival is a Patterson Park fixture. Several moved out of the city altogether.

In an effort to stop further hemorrhage, the city this year designated Market Place as the preferred site for smaller ethnic festivals. The goal was to reacquaint crowds with an area which later this year is scheduled to become the home of the Port Discovery children's museum.

The experiment has gone nicely. What happens next year, though, is uncertain. With all the children's museum activities, Market Place may no longer have space for ethnic festivals.

One thing is clear: Ethnic festivals remain an important promotion vehicle for Baltimore. The city ought to do its utmost to make sure we do not lose them.

There is no need to try to confine them to one place. In fact, it would be good for neighborhoods if more of them were scattered throughout Baltimore to such seldom-used areas as Wyman Park and Herring Run Park.

Pub Date: 8/22/98

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