Sowebo still going strong

Southwest Baltimore's 21st annual art festival draws thousands


Betsey Waters is a Sowebohemian through and through.

"I love this neighborhood," Waters said, organizing some of the potted plants she was selling at its 21st annual Sowebohemian Arts and Music Festival. "I love the diversity and its quirkiness."

A 28-year resident of the Sowebo neighborhood - its name coined from Southwest Baltimore - Waters said she has lived there through the boom of the Hollins Market area, seen economic hardships devastate the neighborhood and enjoyed seeing the current renovation of abandoned buildings.

"Even though we've had some ups and downs, we've held tight," Waters said. "We're still going strong."

The three-block festival featured numerous retail booths offering arts, crafts and books, in addition to Waters' herbs and other plants, and several sound stages with a quickly changing cast of 40 local musical acts, a slew of food stands, and the crown jewel, a former public bathhouse and glassblowing studio at 1111 Hollins St. that has recently been turned into an art gallery and home to the nonprofit Sowebo Arts Inc.

"It's a good chance to see my friends," Waters said. "Sometimes you get so caught up in your life, it's a good chance to see everybody."

Scotty Stevenson, an organizer of the event more often referred to as the Sowebo Arts Festival, estimated that 8,000 people had attended by 6 p.m. - two hours before it was scheduled to end.

The crowd included a large cross-section of people - from suburbanites in the city for a little urban-excavating shopping trip, to hipsters in search of some of the latest sounds of local bands.

With a cold drink in her hand, and wearing an oversized beach hat to shield her from the sun, Peggy Ollerhead admired African jewelry outside the Umri Siki art gallery at 1100 Hollins St.

"It's a nice way to spend Memorial Day weekend and support the city," said the Towson resident. "It's my first time down here" for the festival.

Ollerhead, who said she enjoyed all of the arts and music, added she was contemplating what to eat: "I'm thinking about getting a grilled sweet potato."

Elizabeth Rodenhizer, a photography student at Anne Arundel Community College, manned a booth that displayed some of her pictures. It was her second year selling pictures at the festival.

"I've gotten a lot of interest," said Rodenhizer, noting that she sold five pictures last year. "It's fun. The music is good. There's good food."

Charlene Fields, who owns Beautiful By Nature, a home business in Owings Mills that specializes in African, Indonesian and Indian art, has operated a booth at the festival for the past four years.

"They love art," she said of the patrons. "They mingle. They appreciate your art no matter where it is from."

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