Artscape a fun escape for many

City arts festival attracts performers, visitors from Baltimore and beyond, in spirit of joy and creativity

July 20, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

As they meandered among paintings, sculpture and crafts, patrons of Artscape could also take in a street performance.

They might watch a contortionist squeeze his entire 6-foot frame through a small hoop, a juggler toss oddities while skateboarding and an aptly named roving minstrel. The Monkey Man, aka Jerry Brown, works with a sidekick who steals the show.

"That's what I like about Artscape," said Baltimorean Lisa Kornberg, accompanied by her grandsons, who are from Woodbridge, Va. "It brings art to the city and brings the city together. These kids get a chance to see so much different stuff."

Grandson David Saunders, 11, said, "I like everything about Artscape."

Baltimore's 27th annual outdoor festival of the arts continues through today, with nearly a half-million visitors expected to attend the three days of performances, concerts and exhibitions along Mount Royal Avenue and in galleries and museums around the city.

Audiences gathered on the sidewalk to watch Brown. Dressed in a top hat with matching vest and bow tie, he strummed a ukulele, sang and danced, while the monkey on his shoulder waved to the crowd and did card tricks.

For a quarter, Django would award a quick kiss. "I bet my grandma has a quarter," said Jonathan Saunders, 5.

For a dollar, the critter, a 17-year-old female capuchin, would pose for a photo atop a human's head or across the shoulders. Kate Julian of Greensboro, N.C., settled for the less costly option - a kiss on her nose.

"It actually felt gentle," she said.

Several young patrons ended up assisting man and monkey in their sidewalk magic show. Steven Shriver, 11, of Glen Burnie tossed a ball back and forth to the monkey and Emma Moore, 12, of Charlotte, N.C., played a mind game in which she became convinced she had bent a fork. Alex Van Cleef, 10, of Mount Airy left with a dainty yellow hat the magician fashioned from a sheet of tissue paper that the girl had just shredded into pieces.

Ashley Van Cleef snapped pictures of her daughter's magical moment and deemed her first Artscape a great family event.

"I didn't realize all the things available in Baltimore until today," said Van Cleef, whose hands were filled with artwork her children had made in the Target Family Art Park.

Children dabbled in all manner of projects, learned about the city's cultural centers and sampled ethnic fare. They tested the odd musical instrument, painted a design on a floppy hat and made chalk drawings. Many also discovered belly dancing.

"We play interactive music and get a lot of children to dance with us," said Nina Amaya, leader of Belly Delight dancing troupe, which will perform today costumed in animal prints. "They love the Mideastern beat."

Nzingah Oniwosan came from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to teach children a stamping tradition that dates to 19th-century Ghana. Her students would make a small pillow and stamp it with their choice of 40 intricately carved symbols.

"I want them to learn traditional African art and how to communicate with symbols outside the alphabet," Oniwosan said.

Wendy Sidlofsky, who moved to Pikesville a year ago, came to the festival with her 7-year-old son, Ben.

"Artscape is a great way for him to see all that Baltimore offers and a great way for the family to spend Saturday," she said.

Ben tested his musical aptitude on a Boomwhacker and found he liked the percussion tubes a bit better than the piano at home. For his efforts, he was awarded an honorary kazoo from the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra.

A dozen children from Follow Your Dreams Summer Camp in the city helped organize a "dream green" project. They encouraged others to plant seeds in recycled pots and then paint them.

"Paint with us," said Michelle Blue, camp director, who has brought campers to the festival for several years. "Then, take it home and let it grow."

Alexander Populoh, 3, alternated crayon drawing with intense stares into a mirror. He presented his mother, Lisa, with a charming self-portrait.

"I will frame it along with the many other beautiful portraits I have at home," she said.

Then, the pair was off to watch his aunt stilt walk on a nearby stage. Before they reached that area, they might have encountered more street theater. Jonathan Burns performed his comedy contortion with a grand finale: the hoop of destiny.

"I fit my whole body through a toilet seat," he said. "It's a natural-born talent, so I don't have to practice much."

He often appears with Evan Young, who rides a skateboard while juggling a bowling ball, sharp knife and a toilet bowl brush.

"I don't wear a helmet, just a baseball cap," he said.

The Lancaster, Pa., men, both 26, have made their living for several years with their outlandish stunts, popular on college campuses, and can often be seen at Harborplace, they said.

Deb Horst found Artscape on the Internet and decided to make the trip from Hershey, Pa. As she savored a glistening cooked onion, she mapped out her day.

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