Artscape is canvas for the soul of a city

Crowds find ways to beat heat while enjoying art and music


A giant canvas. Buckets of paint. A challenge.

Artist Monica Weidel stood at the front of her Artscape booth along Mount Royal Avenue yesterday, beckoning everyone in to grab a brush, dip it into some paint and reveal one word - any word they like - that describes Baltimore.

As the throngs passed by, one by one taking Weidel up on her challenge, words and colors began to crowd the canvas.

Great. Baseball. Home. Fun-kae.

Without much hesitation, one tall man ducked into the shade of the booth, dipped a paintbrush into a canister of bright blue, then found an open corner to begin.

First a "u," then an "n," followed by a "p." "Unpretentious," he quickly brush-stroked. That's Baltimore to him, and the city's annual celebration of the arts in particular.

"It's because of the people," said Nick Nadolny of Fells Point. "They like art, but they're not the tuxedo and evening gown-type people, if you know what I mean."

Artscape knows what he means.

The festival offers folks a chance to experience dance, art, theater and all genres of music, not in a stuffy setting, but with flip-flops on their feet and a raspberry snowballs in their hands.

"It's not an art-art festival," is how wood turner Walt Bennett of Haymarket, Va., put it. "It's a very good mix, and you're not overpowered by any one type of art."

If people were overpowered by anything yesterday, it would have been the heat, which had more than a few art-lovers sipping from water bottles and trying to coax breezes from paper paddle fans some organizations were handing out.

Surprisingly, no one chose "sweaty" as the word to describe Baltimore, though it's possibly someone had but it melted off of the canvas.

Ellicott City's Meredith Parks, who was selling handcrafted blankets and baby clothes that she makes from vintage chenille bedspreads, arrived prepared with a fan even though this was her first Artscape.

"Everyone said it wouldn't be Artscape if it wasn't really hot," she said.

Fashion exhibits were back for the second year. One of the brightest displays - and definitely the most girlish - was Augusta McDonald's, with her hoop skirts and matching capes in the pinkest of pinks.

"I started it as dress-up but the girls in Atlanta wore them all the time," she said, adding that she thinks the flouncy finery will go over well here, too. "It's a city where I know they're going to get it - I can tell they're the type of people who want to inspire uniqueness in their children."

Weidel, who also teaches art, said she came up with the idea of asking people to paint the canvas after last year's Artscape, when she brought a crab for people to decorate and realized how much they enjoyed a chance to partake in the art instead of merely meandering past it.

With the Baltimore word canvas, she's trying to create what she calls "a visual voice." And after the festival ends today, she hopes to display the results somewhere in town.

Weidel said she's enjoyed observing the honesty, the humor and the pluckiness with which festivalgoers pick up her paintbrushes.

One young woman chose "me" as her word to best describe Baltimore. Someone else somberly, and perhaps a bit politically, painted: "shh ... AIDS."

Grace Newton, a 7-year-old from Northeast Baltimore, opted for the word "flag," having, as her mom, Priscilla, explained, just learned about Maryland symbols in school. Priscilla Newton was more excited about her own word: "possibilities."

"It's so full of promise, but oh my goodness," she said, "we got a way to go."

Artscape continues today from noon until 8 p.m. The festival center is the 1200 block of Mount Royal Ave. All events are free.

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