Each year, Artscape draws huge crowds to one of the nation's largest art festivals. (Lloyd Fox and Ulysses Munoz / BSMG)
For 36 years, Artscape has been Baltimore's go-to summer party — an all-for-free celebration of the performing and visual arts, bringing together a vast range of Charm City's creative minds, from street performers to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
"Artscape is a tradition, but every year, it has something new," says Bill Gilmore, who is about to oversee his 16th and final Artscape as executive director of its organizing agency, the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "People come to Artscape because they connect with people and run into people they see maybe once a year, and it's at Artscape. We're constantly hearing that from people."
Billed as the nation's largest free arts festival, Artscape returns this weekend with a summer-camp feel — this year's theme is "Camp Artscape: Adventure Awaits." Here are 10 highlights suggesting just how adventurous a visit to Artscape 2017 can be.
Art cars return They were gone for a year, and they were missed. Happily, those gaudily decorated pieces of automotive art that draw stares in all the best ways are returning in force. Eight cars, with names like "Opti Car Lusion," "Some Kind of Bat Car" and "Vanadu," will be on display along Charles Street, near Penn Station. For the full experience, check out Saturday's art car caravan — yes, these creations truly are road-worthy — that sets off at 11 a.m. from the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway, entering Artscape at Mount Royal Avenue and then parading through to their Charles Street home. You gotta see these cars to believe 'em.
Creative camping Several art installations invoke this year's "Camp Artscape" theme. "Let's Build a Big Campfire!" in Pearlstone Park at Cathedral and Preston streets, is a 20-foot tall campfire sculpted of steel and logs; "Camp Ready," in the 1300 block of Charles St., offers guidance in preparedness and survival; the "Barter Boat Trading Post," on Charles Street near Penn Station, is a spot to barter and trade trinkets and other souvenirs with your fellow Artscapers; "Who's Watching," also on Charles Street near Penn Station, offers viewing domes in which festivalgoers get to watch one another; and "Dance Camp" features — you guessed it — dance programming, including performances, competitions and a nightly social dance.
Dance! at the Lyric Speaking of dance … Argentina's all-male Che Malambo company, "born from the heart of the gaucho tradition," will be bringing a saucy slice of life south of the border to Charm City. The malambo style of dance, dating to the 17th century, offers a mix of precision footwork and high-energy stomping with propulsive drumming and song. Should happily shake the rafters of the staid old Lyric. 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Modell Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Camp NASA: The Universe Awaits Ever dreamed of becoming an astronaut? Or maybe your kids still do? New to Artscape this year, Camp NASA includes exhibits both fun and educational, including mock astronaut training, a simulation of what life would be like on the International Space Station, and scale models of new rockets designed for manned exploration of Mars. The tactile-oriented will even be able to touch a moon rock. Located on Preston Street, east of the big Ferris wheel.
Aquarium Falls A bit of the great outdoors comes to Artscape. Visitors will work with visual artist and Maryland institute College of Art graduate Kasey Jones to turn Mount Royal Avenue at Dolphin Street into a waterfall made entirely of repurposed plastic. The surrounding area will feature a stream, stepping stones and nature trail. Ah, wilderness.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra With associate conductor Nicholas Hersh wielding the baton, enjoy a free, full-scale BSO concert, performing works by Beethoven, Vivaldi and Piazzola. Also planned: an arrangement of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which could answer the musical question, "Will you do the fandango?" 6 p.m. Friday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., followed by a meet-and-greet with the BSO musicians.
Gamescape "A showcase of video games and the creative people who make them." And that doesn't just mean the new stuff (although there'll be plenty of that), but classics like pinball, Pac-Man and Streetfighter. Plus, real-time competitions will be shown on a giant LED screen by the Charles Street bridge. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday at the University of Baltimore's H. Mebane Turner Learning Commons, 1415 Maryland Ave.
Maryland food and beers Proudly local, Artscape has a tradition of having all its food offerings come from Free State vendors — and this year, that exclusivity extends to beer as well. Food offerings include deliciousness from Ejji Ramen, The Local Fry, Rouge Fine Catering, the Urban Oyster (grilling oysters with Buffalo sauce), Dooby's, Ekiben, Connie's Chicken & Waffles and Otterbein Cookies, as well as Sugar Daddy Funnel Cakes, Funtastic Foods (hand-dipped corn dogs!) and Prigel's Family Creamery. Among the local breweries showing off what they do so well: Flying Dog Brewery, Heavy Seas Beer, The Brewer's Art and Union Craft Brewing.
Theatre Project A full slate of productions, ranging from a local dance revue to Shakespeare as it would have been performed in The Bard's day, are on tap for the Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Free tickets will be made available two hours before the individual showtimes. Highlights include: "Campfire Stories," from The Collective dance troupe (7 p.m. Friday); "The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project: The Taming of the Shrew," New Renaissance Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare, as Shakespeare would have seen it (6:30 p.m. Saturday); and "Baltimore Kids Can Dance," featuring the local dance companies Xpressive4ever Dance Ensemble, The Dance Conservatory at the St. Paul's Schools, and Dance Happens (11 a.m. Sunday).
Artscape After Hours Just because Artscape is over for the day doesn't mean the free fun has to end. Set up along Charles Street, from Preston Street to North Avenue, the nighttime opportunities include music performances on the Johns Hopkins University Station North Stage, Charles Street at North Avenue (until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday), and local comics getting their funny on for LOL@Artscape at the Artscape Playhouse, 1727 N. Charles St. (9 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
If you go
Artscape runs Friday through Sunday in the area roughly west and north of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue, extending to North Avenue. Hours are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. All events are free; some are ticketed, with limited admission. Full schedule of events is at artscape.org.