Book Festival gets positive reviews on Inner Harbor move

The Baltimore Book Festival, once an annual staple in Mount Vernon Square, is smack dab in the touristy Inner Harbor this year, a move that got mostly positive reviews Saturday.

Some who took part in the festival in Mount Vernon say they miss the venue and add that it's too early to say which is better. Others thought that featuring the festival at the harbor would give tourists a good impression of the city.


"Down here, you have people that are not just coming to the book festival. They go to restaurants and to the sites," said Alonza Williams, an author from Pikesville. "The people that would come up to Mount Vernon were more of a Johns Hopkins, Peabody, Walters Art Museum crowd. I love both, but I think you get more visibility down here."

In March, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which runs the festival, chose to move the event to the harbor to accommodate the renovation of the Washington Monument. That ended an 18-year run in Mount Vernon.


On Saturday, pitched tents housing authors' displays, exhibitions and crafts drew crowds that filled the harbor area from McKeldin Square to Rash Field amid the warm temperatures and cloudless skies.

The Office of Promotion & the Arts anticipates about 50,000 festivalgoers over the weekend and says that many Inner Harbor attractions will host book festival events.

Officials said the event was expected to feature more than 225 presenting authors, 170 self-published authors, and more than 100 scheduled appearances and performers. The festival comprised 14 stages and featured cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs.

Bill Gilmore, Office of Promotions & the Arts executive director, said that some of the infrastructure used during the book festival was also used during the recent Star Spangled Spectacular.

Among the new festival offerings this year: The Enoch Pratt Free Library provided programming for children and young adults with events that included a look at the Maurice Sendak children's book "Where the Wild Things Are." And this year, the festival featured two authors' tents, one more than usual.

Gilmore said that the differences between hosting the event in one Baltimore community and its tourist hub were evident.

"Mount Vernon is a much more contained festival stage," Gilmore said. "Down at the harbor, we're a little more linear and spread out. It's a little bit of a challenge traversing the site."

Max Obuszewski, a member of the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said he likely couldn't tell until Sunday which venue worked better. A seller of donated books, pendants, films and bumper stickers, Obuszewski said that Friday evening's book festival at the harbor contrasted with that of Mount Vernon.


"Based on a Mount Vernon Friday and a Friday here, you'd have to make a special purpose to come to Rash Field," said Obuszewski.

Gregg Wilhelm, executive director for the Baltimore-based CityLit Project, said that while Mount Vernon is "the heart of Baltimore's cultural district," the harbor is "the epitome of Baltimore."

"The harbor is what people think of Baltimore. And I think what's different for us is that we're talking to a lot more tourists," Wilhelm said. "And it puts a great face on Baltimore having a cultural event of this significance downtown."

CityLit Project, which showcases regional literary talent, featured among its Saturday festival offerings a discussion about football culture.

Ice cream vendor Robert Walters of Harpswell, Maine, took part in the festival for the first time last year after searching online for a book festival venue. This year, Walters said, he prefers being at the harbor.

"We're on the water. It's a hot day," Walters said. "People want to be by the water and if they're by the water, they'll come to the book festival."