Artscape, started in the early 1980s, is one Baltimore summer festival which just keeps getting bigger and better -- even though the festival usually coincides with some of the hottest weather of the summer.
It's so big now -- with an estimated 1.2 million people attending last year -- that many Bolton Hill neighbors complain of noise and the impact of the huge crowds on grass and landscaping.
When Artscape opens at 6 o'clock tonight for its three-day run, record crowds can again be expected. The 8:15 p.m. main act is none other than Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. She is the biggest name on the weekend roster of varied music that ranges from opera and bluegrass to New Orleans jazz, rock'n roll and chamber music.
One of the main reasons for Artscape's success is its ability to reflect the incredible diversity of Baltimore's ethnic and cultural fabric.
The festival's dance performances, for example, cover everything from New Zealand and Japan to Latin America and Ukraine. There will be clowns and storytelling for children, advice for parents on how to write children's stories and literary and poetry readings.
Exhibits by more than 100 artists -- many of whom sell their work -- are an important part of Artscape. Many booths have information about art or crafts classes. A number of other booths feature the work of Baltimore art organizations or display books by specialty publishers.
It it not surprising that over the years Artscape has become an important vehicle for emerging local and regional artists of various kinds to exhibit and widen their reputation.
As tens of thousands of people descend on the Mount Royal Cultural Center area, automobile traffic will be snarled and parking will be at a premium. Our advice to readers anxious to enjoy the festival is to take the light-rail train. It stops in the center of the Artscape exhibit area and offers a hassle-free way to get in and out quickly. And remember, the Metro heavy-rail line stop is only a block away from Artscape, too.