Artscape is always a huge potpourri of pop music, food, poetry readings and -- believe it or not -- art. This year's version of the annual festival, which begins Friday, will be even more so. It will include opera, a one-act play, cars as art, and a Maori dance group, among other new attractions.
"Artscape this year has something for everyone," says Clair Zamoiski List, director of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture, which organizes the fest. "We always strive to make it extremely culturally diverse to appeal to a vast audience. And we want to make it fun as well. We want to make sure that people have a good time as well as encounter educational experiences."
The city's biggest arts event, the three-day Artscape festival last year drew 1.2 million people to the Mount Royal Avenue corridor. To help attract that many or more this time around, Artscape will for the first time offer:
Opera: Members of the Baltimore Opera Company will present Rossini's "The Marriage Contract," a one-act farce set in 18th-century England.
Cars: Artscape usually mounts four major art shows, but this year it has added a fifth, "Car Show." Featured will be actual cars, modified by artists.
"It will be more than painted," says Gary Kachadourian, Artscape's visual arts coordinator. "It will be a mix of cars with fairly drastic modifications."
Play: Each year, literary awards are given for poetry, short story and one-act play. In addition to readings by the honored poet and short-story writer, for the first time Artscape will present two performances of the prize-winning play, "Jungle Lords," written by Rohn Luckett and nominated by Arena Players.
Kahurangi: One of the musical attractions will be Kahurangi, a Maori group from New Zealand that specializes in a combination of dance, drama and song that, one of its publications says, "reveals the 'ihi' or life force of the Maori culture."
Nor will Kahurangi be the only exotic offering on Artscape's musical stages. This year's schedule includes such world-beat stars as Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour -- pop fans will remember his duet with Peter Gabriel on "In Your Eyes" -- and the legendary Zairian ensemble Tabu Ley Signeur Rochereau & Orchestra Afrisa. There will also be music from the rough-and-tumble zydeco band John Delafosse & the Eunice Playboys, the Mexican folk ensemble Tlen-Huicani, and the happily eclectic Apolkalypse.
Still, those interested in more mainstream fare should hardly feel slighted -- particularly with the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin on the bill. In addition to Franklin, there will be performances by Ashford & Simpson, a team whose track record stretches from "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (which they wrote and arranged for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell) to the pro-monogamy smash "Solid," and the brassy Tower of Power ("What Is Hip," "So Very Hard to Go").
Rounding out the festival are Western swing masters Asleep At the Wheel, acid jazz guitarist Ronny Jordan and the bluesy Big Joe and the Dynaflows.
In addition to "Car Show," the art shows this year include "The Ecstatic Garden of Sublime Delerium," multimedia installations by 16 artists; "Beauty," an exhibit on this theme; "Bedtime Stories, Dreams and Nightmares," with artists who use dream imagery; and "Artifice and Nature," the outdoor sculpture show.
The important thing about Artscape's art is that it gives many artists an opportunity to show their work to a vast public, and show it in the context of themed shows. The five exhibits this year will include more than 100 artists. Aside from those, there will be a fine arts and a crafts marketplace where more than 80 artists can sell their work. There will also be performance art -- six performances -- and recent film and video works by six area independents.
And, of course, there will be food, food and more food -- at stands run by everybody from Big Al's Pit Beef to Yellow Bowl Restaurant, and including Cajun Gourmet, Eula's Country Kitchen, Kathy's Fried Dough, Ostrowski's Polish Sausage, Cool Breeze Snowballs and Buzy Bun Biz.
What: Artscape, annual summer festival of the arts
When: Begins Friday at 6 p.m. and runs through the evening of July 17
Where: The Mount Royal cultural corridor, located south of Pennsylvania Station, near the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute, College of Art
Price: Admission is free
Information: Call (410) 386-4575