Maryland visual artists, craft artisans, designers and other creative types who live, work or study in the region will be spotlighted at Sunday's Art Outside.
Festival-goers should expect entertainment, food trucks and other vendors, as well as family-oriented activities, including a performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's youth musicians, OrchKids.
"I wanted to bring people together and have some place for the new, up-and-coming artists at Station North and artists from all over the state to show their stuff," said Barbara Shapiro, 79, a retired educator who is the founder of Art Outside. "I thought it would be great to have it at Druid Hill Park, which is beautiful, but underused in my opinion."
Art Outside is billed as a 21st-century revamp of the annual outdoor art festivals that took place at the municipal park from 1953 through 1968, according to festival organizers. Those original gatherings were the reported brainchild of Baltimore artist Amalie Rothschild, who modeled them after outdoor art sales then held at Washington Square in New York City.
"I'm an art lover, so is my husband, and I thought it might be a fun thing to bring back the shows," said Shapiro, a Roland Park resident who recalls attending those art shows at a time when major art festivals, specialty galleries and pop-up exhibition spaces were either unheard of, or a novelty at best.
In the 1950s and 1960s, local artists displayed their works on the fence surrounding the tree-lined reservoir of Druid Hill Park, a 745-acre expanse northwest of downtown that was established in 1860 and is one of America's oldest landscaped parks. Those past art shows at the park provided a unique melding of art and commerce, where artists could mingle with potential patrons and sell their works. The setup will be similar this go round.
In its early days, Druid Hill Park's pools, tennis courts and other recreational facilities were racially segregated. There were protests by African-Americans and allies over the years, and in 1955, the park's board's policy was that facilities should be integrated. The following year, integrated pools opened to the public, according to the Druid Hill Park Master Plan.
Given such history, Shapiro said, supporting newer events such as Art Outside — which strives to assemble a diverse cross-section of people under the banner of art — is a way to unite the Baltimore community.
"We don't live in Canton or Hamilton or Owings Mills or Pikesville; we live in Baltimore. We have to work together, understand each other and not only hear about the negative sides of different groups," said Shapiro. "This is 2014. This is a magnificent gem in the city. Let's look at the positives."
Shapiro noted that she was grateful for several local foundations, private donors and partners such as the Parks & People Foundation for aiding the festival with money (some $80,000 was raised) and other resources.
Art Outside welcomed 41 artists in its inaugural year, organizers report, and drew about 2,000 attendees (Shapiro said plans are not yet set for a third year of Art Outside). This year, hundreds applied for and more than 80 artists were accepted into the juried arts festival. Besides those participants, new this year is the Maryland Distinguished Artist Gallery, a tent which will feature some of the area's best-known artists, both past and present.
The festival planners also hope to appeal to an array of art enthusiasts. Artists hail from across the city and state and represent a wide range of media, including ceramics, clay, drawing, painting, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, photography, textiles and wood.
Among them is Shawn Theron, 41, a Parkville-based painter who works with scrap lumber and oil paint. His bold, colorful installations have been exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum and in galleries across the region.
He expressed excitement about returning to the festival after enjoying a positive experience last year.
"I'm a self-taught artist who never dreamed I'd see my work on display," said Theron. "Art is part of my new life journey, and it's brought me great joy."
Theron is a former bartender who launched his art company, SOGH, about eight years ago in tribute to his mother, who died of cancer in 2003. Before her death, she'd urged him to live to the fullest. He paints on canvasses that range from discarded doors to old flooring, and plans to bring dozens of paintings in all sizes to the festival.
Theron also plans to unveil his SOGH Art Truck, a refurbished, tricked-out vehicle that he touts as Baltimore's first mobile art gallery.
"I call it a moving sculpture. It's still evolving, but it'll have a staircase and room for people to step inside and view exhibits," said Theron, who is crowdsourcing money for the project on kickstarter.com.
Also returning to Art Outside is Lorenzo Wilkins, a Silver Spring-based photographer and graphic designer.
"I love shooting architecture and I like to do studies," said Wilkins, 65, whose work ranges from studio portraits to travel imagery. "My vision is universal."
Wilkins, who met Shapiro while showing his work at the downtown farmers' market, relishes the idea of presenting art to people in an outdoor setting. "I like the crowds. There's great energy."
The park location was also a draw for Laurie Schwartz, the president of Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore Inc., who formerly served as a deputy mayor of Baltimore under Martin O'Malley.
Noting that she's "thrilled" to be a first-time festival participant, the Roland Park resident entered the art world about a decade ago after taking a drawing workshop while vacationing in Maine. Schwartz continued to "dip her toe in the water" by trying an introduction to painting class at the Maryland Institute College of Art the following fall. "I loved it."
She has since taken additional classes at the historic Schuler School of Fine Arts in Station North, and her work has been exhibited at the National Arts Club in New York City. Although she is capable of painting landscapes, Schwartz said she most enjoys capturing still life scenes such as feathers, a child's chiffon dress or antique boots.
"Painting just transports you," said the award-winning artist, who applauded Art Outside's concept. "It's wonderful to associated with an event that not only celebrates art, but does so in a part of the city that's one of our most precious assets.