Celebrating Artscape

Our view: Sondheim Prize has brought city new regional acclaim

July 18, 2008

Artscape, Baltimore's annual outdoor festival of the arts, opens today as the signature event of this season in the city. Upward of half a million visitors are expected to attend its three days of performances, concerts and exhibitions along Mount Royal Avenue and in galleries and museums around town. It's a time to celebrate Baltimore's vibrant arts scene and the role art plays in binding our ties of community and to put our best foot forward as a creative place to live and work.

Walter Sondheim Jr., the longtime Baltimore civic leader and pioneer of downtown redevelopment who died last year, would have been proud of what Artscape has achieved in raising Baltimore's profile as an important regional arts center rather than a provincial outpost between Philadelphia and Washington. For too long, the terrific abundance of first-rate artistic talent in Baltimore seemed a well-kept secret. Among Mr. Sondheim's many legacies is the three-year-old prize named in his honor that Artscape officials awarded last week to a young artist, Geoff Grace, in recognition of the beauty and originality of his work.

The $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize has made Artscape a magnet for artists across the Mid-Atlantic region, drawing hundreds of entries from as far as Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Richmond, Va. But its biggest impact has been the attention it has drawn to works created here. Thanks in part to the presence of the Maryland Institute College of Art, one of the nation's top art schools, Baltimore is home to a fertile mix of emerging, midcareer and established artists. .

This city may not be late 19th-century Paris or 1950s-era New York, but it is a caldron of artistic ferment. Visionaries like Mr. Sondheim long ago recognized that the arts nurture the kind of creative energy and civic pride that makes a city come alive. That's something to celebrate on Mount Royal Avenue this weekend.

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