Artscape ends with weekend's biggest crowds

Attendance at Artscape picked up Sunday after a rainy Saturday.
Attendance at Artscape picked up Sunday after a rainy Saturday. (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

The city's three-day Artscape festival came to a close Sunday as the rain held off and the biggest crowds of the weekend jammed streets transformed into galleries, performance space and picnic areas.

After a slower-than-usual, rainy Saturday, "All of our fair-weather friends came out today," said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which produces the event. "We're at capacity."

Artscape, which bills itself as America's largest free arts festival, featured roughly 145 artists and vendors and was expected to have attracted about 350,000 people.

On Sunday, festival-goers joined in with a rock opera troupe to play air guitar on a car roof, posed in front of "the world's tallest" John Waters mural and took home purchases of paintings, jewelry and pottery made by local and visiting artists.

"As far as the amount of traffic, there's nothing like it," said Jennifer Wilfong, an artist from Hampden who makes jewelry from recycled copper and clay. Her vintage pieces redesigned with polymer clay were big sellers. "The amount of people who see you — you can't beat this show."

In one section of this year's 12-block festival, North Charles Street was closed off from Preston Street to North Avenue to include part of the city's Station North Arts and Entertainment District. The area was themed "Roadside Attractions."

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, a sponsor, had one of the most popular booths — dozens of people stood in line to take a survey about driving habits. Those who participated in the state safety campaign were rewarded for their time, given free "Boh Knows Best" T-shirts. By midday Sunday, the MVA had distributed about 2,000 shirts.

The festival was the best in eight years, said Mount Vernon resident Maggie McGregor, a regular Artscape attendee.

"The weather is better, the layout is better. You can see the entertainment better," she said, and the "roadside" theme ushered in new exhibits she called "weird and crazy and fun and bizarre."

Performers along North Charles included the "Squonk Opera," a rock band that put on its "Go Roadshow" on a monster truck, paying tribute to America's history of traveling circuses and Mummer and Shriner parades. The band started each performance by gathering about a block away from the stage and marching in a parade to lead audience members to the stage.

"They're very innovative," said Sharon Dlubala, a retired Johns Hopkins researcher from Old Hillendale in Baltimore County. "I come for the variety and the spontaneous entertainment you see, and the street performers. Having lived [in the city], I hope it keeps people coming."

Farther north on Charles, costume-clad performers in the Baltimore Rock Opera Society had little trouble convincing audience members to climb onto a stage atop a parked car to play "air guitar" using a guitar prop. One, a young boy named Joe, was re-christened "Death Kill," and he entertained the crowd while a Jimi Hendrix song blasted from a speaker.

Performers in the Moloch's Midway tent were getting ready for their next show, as "Dr. Apocrypha P. Necrosis," also known as Mike Johnson of Baltimore, announced the coming performance on a megaphone. Participating in "Roadside Attractions" at Artscape has been a big boost for the sideshow performers and carnival game operators, Johnson said. They performed stunts such as lying on a bed of nails with heavy weights.

"It's a huge number of people who get exposed to our stuff," said Johnson, a media technician at the University of Baltimore. "There's no one quite like us."

On the north side of the North Charles Street bridge, Jake Hollifield, a musician and artist who creates paintings on discarded items, sat outside the painted trailer he had driven from Asheville, N.C., for his first Artscape. Near Hollifield's tent were other artists and the popular art cars, such as the "Ant Car" covered in larger-than-life ants. Hollifield had sold about $300 worth of his work over the weekend, including paintings on roofing tin and on metal trays.

"I judge it more on the experience, and the whole experience has been unbelievable," Hollifield said. "This is the most art in one spot."

Outside Penn Station, Tuwanda Noble stood peering up to the top of a Ferris wheel called the "Expo Wheel," watching her 11-year old grandson ride. Noble, who had come to the festival with her fiance and her 8-year-old daughter, said she comes to Artscape every year.

She rattled off the list of what brings her back. Year after year, she said, "it's the performers, the art, the food, the crowd, the music, the culture."


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