Artscape gets bigger and better

Rough count: More than last year's estimated 1.5 million

July 25, 2005|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,Sun Art Critic

On Saturday, Cleveland resident Dianne Hearey was in town visiting her son when she found herself among the delighted Artscape crowd in front of the bandstand listening to O'Malley's March, the spirited Celtic music group founded by Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"I love it!" Hearey exclaimed. "We don't have anything like this in Cleveland. We don't have a mayor like that either. This whole city seems so alive!"

With near perfect weather - sunny, temperatures in the high 80s and low humidity - more musical entertainment than ever and festive crowds lining the length of Mount Royal Avenue's culture corridor, Baltimore pulled out all the stops over the weekend for Artscape 2005, the city's 24th annual outdoor festival of the arts.

The three-day event drew hundreds of thousands of visitors a day from around the region and the country.

They filled Mount Royal Avenue from Charles Street to North Avenue listening to the sounds of Afro-pop, funk, Celtic and soul, eating tasty food from scores of local vendors and puzzling over the artworks on display along the median strip and in the galleries of the Maryland Institute College of Art. There was even a lineup of fashion shows this year.

No exact count is possible, but based on interviews, officials believe attendance at this year's Artscape may have surpassed last year's, when it attracted an estimated 1.5 million visitors, said William Gilmore, director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and Arts, which organizes the event.

Along with the music, on four stages, the visual arts were as usual a big part of the attraction. For example, David Page and JL Stewart Watson's unusual sculpture on the median strip in front of the Lyric Opera House seemed to draw comment from just about everyone who saw it.

The piece, which looks a spiky medieval suit of armor dripping some sort of soft organic substance from its interior, is actually a steel shell enclosing 300 pounds of hand-made hard candy that gradually melts under the sun's rays.

"It looks like a big industrialstrength fruit juicer, but I like i t ," said Wendy Foster, a 34-year-old imaging technician from Colorado. "I thought it was very unique."

Brian Moody, a 46-year-old online marketer from Philadelphia, called it "a blend of the hard and the soft."

"At first I thought the ooze coming out of it was tar, or molasses," Moody said. "But it's pretty interesting."

A bit farther up Mount Royal Avenue, 29-year-old Baltimore resident Nazjah Johnson was inspecting hip-hop-inspired artworks in the Independent Gallery Pavilion on the median.

"It's always fun for me, but this year I particularly liked the lineup of musicians," Johnson said. "It seems more culturally diverse, with reggae, hip-hop, blues and other things, too."

Just outside the pavilion, Maurice Lease of Baltimore and Sammy Vogeley of Towson were ensconced on the grass in front of artist Audrey Lea Collins' huge wood, vinyl and corrugated plastic billboard depicting the view from her backyard in New York state.

"We feel like we're in our own cabin in the woods," said Lease, 28. "This has been our spot for the whole day."

"If I lived in the city I would love to have this in my backyard," Vogeley agreed. "Because then I'd feel like I was camping out every day."

Meanwhile, in MICA's Fox building, 22-year-old Antoinette Suiter, who graduated from the institute this year, was pondering Rocyeun Kim's life-size Xerox images of female figures and T. Charnan Lewis and Geoff Grace's whimsical wall painting of birds in flight executed with a mixture of clay and whiskey.

"I've just gone through so many critiques before graduation my brain is just about mush," Suiter lamented. "But I saw another piece by Geoff and Charnan at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and I really love their work."

A theme repeatedly expressed by visitors was that Artscape appears to keep getting better.

"It seems much more organized," said Deja Jones, 22, who studied art at Marietta College in Ohio and thought previous Artscapes were too preoccupied with selling food. "It used to be like, where's all the art?" Jones said.

Her companion, 20-year-old Bilqis Amatus-Salaam, also an art student, felt "it's definitely gotten better since they moved the food inside the pavilion. Now it's more about art. And I really liked the metal dripping thing [Page and Watson's work] and the graffiti booth."

The festival, which wrapped up yesterday at 8 p.m., even managed to lure a few local skeptics who had never been before.

"This is my first time, though I used to pass it every day on the way home," said Dale Gray, 46, of Timonium, who was sitting happily on the grass along the median strip watching the crowd go by.

So why'd he finally decide to take the plunge after all these years?

"I guess I just thought it was time," Gray replied. "Plus the weather was great."

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