In spite of the heat, thousands attended Artscape 2019 in Baltimore.
In spite of the heat, thousands attended Artscape 2019 in Baltimore. (Xavier Plater / Baltimore Sun)

If the sweltering heat of a typical July weekend is enough to make you swear off Artscape, Baltimore’s annual free arts festival, cooler heads — and dates — may soon prevail.

After an Artscape 2019 weekend (July 19-21) where heat indexes reached 110 degrees, organizers are considering moving the 37-year-old arts festival to a cooler time of year. The discussion is very preliminary and nothing has been decided, but officials with the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the non-profit that serves as the city’s arts council and produces Artscape, are looking into the possibility.

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“This year, Friday was the coolest day, and that was 98 degrees,” said Donna Drew Sawyer, BOPA’s CEO. “Any time the heat index is at 110, it gives you pause... After this year, we felt we ought to at least look at it.”

Sending her staff out in such heat, she said, much less inducing the general public out into it, should not be taken lightly. “We were under a heat caution,” she said. “but for us, the show must go on. I had staff out there working in temperatures that nobody should be out in.”

The national umbrella organization Americans for the Arts, Sawyer said, is studying ways climate change may be affecting the arts, or could affect them in the future. If average temperatures continue to climb, she said, outdoor festivals like Artscape may need to take that into consideration. “They are looking, ahead of the rest of us, at how different things impact the arts community, and one of the things they are looking at is climate change."

Sawyer stressed that “this is simply an idea, it is not inevitable in any way, shape or form,” and that other groups, organizations and merchants involved in Artscape would have to be consulted in advance of any shift. Dates for Artscape 2020, which have yet to be announced, would not be affected, she said.

Shifting their festivals around is nothing new for BOPA. Sawyer and her staff are preparing for Brilliant Baltimore, the first combined Baltimore Book Festival and Light City, set for Nov. 1-10. Previously, Light City had been scheduled for late March or early April, the book festival for September.

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