Festival grows along Charles

Artscape to expand, boost Station North arts district in city

May 30, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,Sun reporter

Artscape will expand onto Charles Street this year to in an effort to boost the Station North Arts and Entertainment District and bring more people to the galleries, restaurants and shops in Midtown Baltimore's designated arts area.

The arts festival, set for July 18-20, will continue to be centered in Bolton Hill along Mount Royal Avenue. But this year the festival will also occupy Charles Street from Mount Royal north to Lafayette Avenue, with a music stage, food court, street performers and other activities.

Station North, a 100-acre swath north of Penn Station that received city recognition as an arts district in 2002, is working to raise its profile in Baltimore and beyond. While many are familiar with the Charles Theatre and Tapas Teatro restaurant in the 1700 block of N. Charles St., galleries and stores in the area have not received as much attention.

"One of the things that we realized is, some of the folks who come to Artscape maybe only come into the city a few times a year, and this gives them the sense there are other places they can come to in the city," said David Bielenberg, executive director of Station North Arts and Entertainment Inc., a nonprofit that manages the district. "We saw this as a great opportunity to reach some new audiences."

The nonprofit approached the city last year and asked to be included in Artscape, the largest free arts festival in Maryland. Artscape was looking to expand because a large parking lot that had been used as a food court is now the site of construction for apartments and a parking garage.

Expansion onto Maryland Avenue was considered, but development might soon complicate that location, and officials were looking for a more permanent home. Meanwhile, Station North establishments such as the Everyman Theatre offered to help with space and programming for the festival.

"We thought Baltimore's premier arts festival should be on one of its premier streets," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "It's definitely going to boost Station North and that community. We want people to park in those neighborhoods, walk in those neighborhoods and become familiar with them."

Since its designation as an arts district, Station North has quietly attracted artists and nurtured the openings of restaurants, galleries and other businesses. But the area has not garnered the kind of fanfare attached to upscale developments such as Harbor East.

"It makes perfect sense that Artscape would expand into our district," said Vincent Lancisi, artistic director of the Everyman Theatre. "I think the street will be filled with art-seekers, and it will invigorate our area for a weekend."

On the Saturday of Artscape, the Everyman stage will be used for a jazz competition. And while the theater does not have a regularly scheduled performance for the Artscape weekend, it will consider staging a show during the festival next year, Lancisi said.

To facilitate Station North's growth, the city is creating a vision and development plan for the area, bounded by Greenmount Avenue on the east, 20th Street on the north, Falls Road on the west and the Jones Falls Expressway on the south. Baltimore Development Corp. has hired planners and architects to guide development.

Initial ideas include a 60-story tower with "live-work" condos, blocks of small shops and artists studios, and shops and outdoor cafes along the distressed North Avenue corridor. But for now, business owners say they are thrilled to play host to Artscape this year.

"We're all very happy that Station North is being recognized as the arts and entertainment district that it is, and this is the first really good acknowledgment of that fact," said Suzannah Gerber, curator and events and exhibitions coordinator for Load of Fun Studios at North Avenue and Howard Street.

While Artscape will stop a couple of blocks short of her studio, she hopes that in future years the festival will expand to include most of Station North. Such an expansion could help dispel people's fears about North Avenue.

"I think there's still very much a stigma about North Avenue, which is largely fictitious at this point," Gerber said. "I don't know whether Artscape will have a positive effect on that or not."

Load of Fun will offer live performances and workshops concurrent with Artscape. And on the Friday and Saturday nights of the festival, Load of Fun will host performances by Annie Sprinkle, a feminist performance artist as part of its Baltimore Erotic Arts Festival.

The official Artscape schedule of events will be announced Wednesday.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

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