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Baltimore City

Artscape ‘preview’ coming in September; Baltimore’s Book Festival, Light City not returning in 2022

Artscape, Baltimore’s popular summer arts and music festival, will continue its hiatus in 2022 as the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts reworks the event for September 2023.

“We envision a bold, ambitious festival with a singular focus on the Arts,” organizers said in a statement, clarifying an earlier announcement that Artscape would return this fall.

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Instead, organizers wrote, the city will host a “preview” of next year’s Artscape in September while organizers “re-imagine Artscape in the tradition of the world’s great art festivals.” Further details, including date and location, were not available, and officials noted that “visionary plans take time to realize.”

The Baltimore Book Festival and Light City also will not be returning in 2022. All three events, which are organized by BOPA, the city-affiliated nonprofit that acts as Baltimore’s arts council, have been canceled for the past two years because of COVID-19.

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Donna Drew Sawyer, BOPA’s CEO, did not respond to a request for comment and Jack French, a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott, said he did not have any additional information about the event.

BOPA’s earlier announcement that Artscape was “shifting” to September caught many event partners in Baltimore off-guard.

The University of Baltimore’s campus is usually the site of many Artscape events, but university president and former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke said no one from the city had contacted him about this year’s festival.

“We certainly enjoy having it on our campus — we hope that we can remain a part of Artscape moving forward,” Schmoke said.

Festival organizers have said previously that they held Artscape on the third weekend of July to make use of buildings — including at the University of Baltimore — that were largely vacant for the summer. It’s unclear how changing the date to September will impact the festivities since that’s when the school is in session.

“Over the next few months, we’ll work with local creators, brands, and organizations across the city to design an inclusive, forward-thinking event — guaranteed to make Baltimore proud,” the statement read.

Schmoke said that even if school is in session, UB still could host the festival, particularly as many classes are being held remotely.

“We’re willing to have the conversation,” he said. “I just hope [BOPA] will talk to us before they make a long-term plan for Artscape.”

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Jonathan Schwartz, executive director of The Lyric Performing Arts Center in Baltimore, said he’s been frustrated by BOPA’s ongoing lack of communication regarding the annual festival.

Located on Mount Royal Avenue, The Lyric is typically a major player in Artscape, hosting events and serving as a volunteer sign-in spot. But Schwartz said he hadn’t met with the leadership of BOPA recently, “so I don’t really know what their plans are going forward.”

Schwartz added that he was not aware of any street shutdowns “or anything that would impact The Lyric at any point this year as we plan our calendar for September 2022.”

However, he added, “If the Artscape is going to be in a different location then it may not impact The Lyric at all.”

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Artscape, which began in 1982, typically draws hundreds of thousands of people to Midtown-Belvedere and Station North on one of the hottest weekends of the year. In 2019, after heat indexes reached 110 degrees during the event, organizers said they were considering moving the festival to a more temperate time of year.

“Any time the heat index is at 110, it gives you pause,” Sawyer told The Sun in 2019. “After this year, we felt we ought to at least look at it.”

According to a message on the organizer’s answering machine, Light City will come back in 2024. Typically held in late March or April, the festival draws crowds to illuminated art installations in the Inner Harbor and beyond. When it launched in 2016, organizers hoped the event would draw in tourists following the previous year’s unrest. The first year, Light City drew some 400,000 attendees. In 2017, attendance increased to an estimated 470,000, but fell the next year.

It’s unclear whether the Book Festival will return or in what form. The annual September celebration of reading began in 1996 and shifted locations and formats through the years, from the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood to the Inner Harbor.

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In November 2019, the Book Festival merged with Light City into a single event called “Brilliant Baltimore.” Officials attributed the decision to combine festivals to a confluence of weather, book publishing schedules and earlier sunsets.

Prior to the pandemic, the Ivy Bookshop in Mt. Washington had been closely involved with the Book Festival events. Owner Emma Snyder, who purchased the store in 2019, said she has not been contacted by city officials about the event.


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