Keeping the fest fresh

Giving the people what they want is mission of those who put on the city's annual arts celebration

artscape 2000

July 20, 2000|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,Special to the Sun

For one weekend every year, artists rule Baltimore. Mimes and jugglers and actors prowl the streets. Music fills the air from morning till night. Paintings and drawings crowd the sidewalk. Potters and poets vie for attention. Yes, hon, it's Artscape time.

The 19th edition of Artscape, Baltimore's annual festival of the arts, takes place this weekend, rain or shine. From Friday evening until Sunday night, the Mount Royal Cultural Corridor will be filled with art, artists and audiences (more than 1.5 million people are expected to attend).

With more than 150 events and hundreds of artists involved, there'll be something for every taste.

"We really do try to have something for everyone," says Clair Zamoiski Segal, president of the festival and director of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture. "The level of programming is extremely high and extremely varied."

Artscape is a Baltimore phenomenon, a free celebration of the arts that invites everyone to participate. Where else can you experience everything from musical performances by Grammy-winning artists to poetry, African dance, experimental videos and formal sculpture in one weekend?

The challenge of keeping Artscape exciting year after year falls on a small staff and a large, dedicated group of volunteers. "We have 12 staff members and over 200 volunteers," Segal says. "We're very fortunate in that we have a lot of volunteers and different curators and artists to help us keep it fresh. We rely on them to take the pulse of the arts community and propose exhibits and themes."

With both spectator attendance and artist participation on the rise, that approach seems to be working. This year, there will be 112 artists in the Artists' Market alone, all of whom will be displaying and selling their work.

The festival's emphasis is always on three key areas: arts education, audience development and high-quality programming. But it is the chance that festival-goers have to see and meet quality artists in an accessible, open setting that makes Artscape unique.

"The mission hasn't changed at all over the years," says Segal. "We are dedicated to creating a high-quality festival that celebrates the literary, visual and performing arts with an emphasis on local and regional artists. We've put a great investment into making sure the audience has an opportunity to interact with artists whenever possible."

In addition to the Artists' Market, there are strolling performers, an Arts Resource area that features local arts organizations, and myriad opportunities for children and adults to participate in arts activities from poetry slams to art workshops.

The schedule is packed each day with an enormous range of activities.

Performing arts around the clock

With three stages, countless street theater venues and strolling artists, performance is everywhere at Artscape. You can see internationally recognized artists and unheralded locals at the festival, offering everything from storytelling and balloon art to Cajun music, jazz, R&B and African dance.

The action begins when Artscape opens at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow. Mayor Martin O'Malley kicks off the show literally as well as figuratively. While past mayors have attended Artscape, O'Malley is the first to also provide the opening musical performance. His band, O'Malley's March, brings its Irish rock to the Decker Stage.

At 8 p.m. tomorrow, you can catch Grammy Award-winner Patti LaBelle. The R&B diva's performance comes as she ends a three-year hiatus from recording. LaBelle recently released her newest CD, "Flame," and has been quoted as saying, "I feel like I've dusted off my soul, and now I can shine."

Saturday features tremendously varied performances, from the Tai Yim Kung Fu School Dragon Dancers to South African "township jive" by Mahala. On Saturday night, New Orleans R&B rules the stage, courtesy of the venerable Neville Brothers, who are no strangers to outdoor festivals.

"We do quite a few of the outdoor festivals, and they're always great," says Charles Neville, the gifted saxophonist who helps give the group its signature sound. "We enjoy performing for a live audience and seeing their feedback; it's truly joyous."

The Neville Brothers draw on R&B, jazz, Cajun and roots music to create a distinctive sound. Growing up in New Orleans, the four brothers saw some of music's greats.

"We are inspired by our experiences, and the incredible performers we got to see as kids," Neville explains. "We saw Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong -- you don't forget that. All of the New Orleans artists, they were all performers for the sake of doing what was in their hearts and their spirits, not something contrived. That's why we do it, too, to share what's in our hearts."

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