Jim Lucio is the visual arts coordinator for Artscape, America's… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
Jim Lucio is the guy who introduced Baltimore to cranberry sauce wrestling, at an event that he named The Nightmare Before Thanksgiving.
He is the man with the knack for coming up with wildly inventive, tongue-in-cheek names for bands: Joyce de Salvo and the Telemarketers, Wayne Mutant and Miracle Whip.
And it was Lucio who organized a mass pillow fight that took place during a rock concert in which, presumably, all the feathers flying around performed double duty as soundproofing insulation.
For the past nine months, Lucio has been the visual arts coordinator for Artscape, America's largest free arts festival. The 29th annual extravaganza, which starts Friday and continues through the weekend, will include at least a few of Lucio's trademark touches.
Brace yourself, Baltimore.
"A couple of years ago, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life," the 42-year-old Lucio says during a deskside chat at the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts.
"I decided that I want to throw parties. I feel I was made for this kind of work."
Lucio came on the job last October to fill the position formerly held by Gary Kachadourian, who for 25 years was the public face of Artscape. It was Kachadourian, for instance, who raised the festival's national profile virtually overnight by coming up with the idea of the Sondheim Prize, a juried competition for artists in the Mid-Atlantic region that carries a $25,000 award.
Shortly after the 28th annual festival wrapped up last summer, Kachadourian resigned to attend graduate school and to spend more time creating his own artwork.
Artscape has always been extremely popular and is increasingly well-respected, but it has never been described as cutting-edge. Lucio was hired in part because he brims over with ideas for events that appeal to a younger, hipper crowd.
"Jim combines a lot of qualities that aren't often seen together," says Randi Vega, the cultural affairs director for the Office of Promotion and the Arts.
"A lot of people have great ideas, but can't carry them out. Jim came in with specific things he wanted to accomplish and a plan to execute them. There's a cool quotient about him, but it's not off-putting because he's so enthusiastic."
And indeed, Lucio is cool. Stylish, rectangular eyeglass frames rim his baby browns. He is slightly built, looks a decade younger than his age and exudes an air of wholesomeness. This impression is, if anything, reinforced by the elaborate red-and-green tattoo that runs the length of his left arm, and which consists of a nude woman, a giant fish, a skull and a devil.
Though Lucio is intimately familiar with the trials and tribulations of the creative process — his carefully composed Polaroid snapshots were exhibited at last year's Artscape — he is the opposite of the stereotype of the jaded artist.
"I love marketing and selling ideas, and making people realize that they are missing out on something they didn't even know existed," Lucio says. "Baltimore is a collaborative town. It's a town that allows things to happen. It's a town where we can all come together and do something amazing."
Vega describes Lucio as "a team player" — a necessary attribute for anyone working on a festival as multifaceted as Artscape, and which features more than 150 visual artists, three dozen performing groups, nationally known musical acts, five dozen food vendors, a midway and such difficult-to-categorize happenings as a power tool drag race.
Though Lucio plays an important role in determining what shape the festival will take, his voice is just one of many. For instance, a panel of judges, and not Lucio, determines which painters, jewelry makers and ceramics artists will exhibit on the midway.
Nonetheless, it was Lucio who came up for the ideas for two new exhibits called "Comic Strip" and "Moving Pictures."
The former is a giant graphic novel that will sprawl along the 60-foot-long wall of windows at the west entrance of Penn Station. Each 8 1/2-by-12 inch glass rectangle will be a separate panel.
Local artists have been invited to start off the strip, but it will intentionally be left unfinished. A tent located on the grounds will be stocked with paper, markers and other drawing tools. As festivalgoers extend the story line, their contributions will be laminated and added to the exhibit wall.
"Moving Pictures" is an interactive video project in which local filmmakers will shoot movies two to three minutes long starring festival attendees. The films will be organized loosely around the theme of happiness. The footage will be edited, spliced together and shown on a bank of more than 50 television sets.
"All these sets were donated," Lucio says. "People are throwing these things out. One of the goals of this project is to get people to think about what they're tossing away."