Director to update Artscape's flavor

Design: Plans for the festival include a new space for food vendors.

Architecture

February 18, 2002|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Does Baltimore's annual Artscape festival truly seem too much like Foodscape?

That has been a criticism in the past because food vendors have occupied so much prime space along a key corridor of the festival. But it's not likely to apply this year, if organizers move ahead with plans they're considering to move anything that's "broiled, baked, grilled or fried" to a new area within the festival grounds.

Relocating the food vendors is one of several changes under study by Bill Gilmore, the new director of the city agency in charge of the annual event, which is held in the Mount Royal cultural district near Bolton Hill. This year's festival, the 21st, is scheduled for July 26-28.

Gilmore, named last month to head Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts, said he's also exploring ways to:

Enhance security in light of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11;

Recycle festival-generated trash more effectively and otherwise lessen any adverse effects on the environment;

Tame unsanctioned vendors, especially those who congregate west of Howard Street;

Better match musicians with performing venues, so large crowds aren't drawn to areas that can't accommodate them. This has become an issue particularly with the Decker Stage in front of Mount Royal Station and the limited hillside seating there.

Since the demise of the City Fair in the 1980s, Artscape has become the largest festival in Baltimore, drawing upward of 1.5 million visitors each year during its three-day run.

Gilmore took over for Clair Segal, who resigned last year as head of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, the city agency that previously oversaw Artscape. After Segal resigned, Mayor Martin O'Malley merged the arts agency with the city's Office of Promotion, which Gilmore headed, and named Gilmore to run the operation.

In his years heading the promotion office, Gilmore has been responsible for coordinating the city's Waterfront Festival, New Year's Eve and Fourth of July festivities, book festival and many other events. As part of his expanded duties, he said, he is looking for ways to make Artscape more successful.

"I've been a festivalgoer over the years, but I've never looked at how I would do it," he said. "I'm also a past resident of Bolton Hill, so I'm sensitive to issues" of concern to neighbors, such as safety and traffic bottlenecks.

Gilmore has been working with architect Richard Polan of Richard Polan Associates to revise the layout for Artscape. One idea under consideration is to move the food vendors who usually occupy booths along Mount Royal Avenue, between Oliver and Lanvale streets, to a separate "food court" created on a portion of the Bolton Yards parking lot east of Mount Royal Avenue.

The goal, Gilmore said, is to improve the dining experience for festivalgoers by designating a well-defined area that has more seating and is out of the main stream of foot traffic, without being farther from other festival activities.

"The idea is to create a destination for the food," he said. "Food is a very important part of any festival, whether it's Artscape or the Baltimore Book Festival or the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif. We want it to be an integral part of the experience."

In the past, much of the seating for diners has been on the median strip in the middle of Mount Royal Avenue, and many festivalgoers have had to grab seats wherever they can find them or eat while they walk. Other drawbacks to the previous layout are that the crowds kill grass on the median strip and block views of the art displayed along Mount Royal Avenue. Also, some food vendors complain that they have worse locations than others.

Gilmore said he believes it would be better for all concerned if the festival had one area promoted as a food court -- a center for "culinary arts" -- with vendors in a circle and seating in the middle. Since the Bolton Yards parking lot is an asphalt surface, the crowds wouldn't kill any grass. The Mount Royal Avenue median strip, meanwhile, would be used to display art.

"There are always pros and cons" involving food, he said. But, "if you make it a destination, everyone's on a level playing field. There's no good location or bad location, because everyone is in the same location."

Observation deck reopening

Operators of the Top of the World observation deck on the 27th floor of Baltimore's World Trade Center, an attraction that has been closed to the general public since September's attacks in New York and Washington, are aiming to reopen in early April.

The reopening is consistent with a plan by Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts to operate the observation area as a public attraction during the spring and summer and make it an event facility for private bookings only when tourism drops off in the winter.

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