City hopes 'villages' can boost AFRAM


Trying to boost this year's AFRAM Expo, Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday announced a new format for Baltimore's largest ethnic festival, which is scheduled to start at the end of September at Pimlico Race Course.

At a news conference at Pimlico, the mayor said yesterday that the 24th AFRAM Expo will be organized around a "village concept," which the city and event organizers hope will draw thousands more people than in 1999.

The annual event, which is usually held in August, will be held on the Pimlico infield from Sept. 29 to 0ct. 1.

Last year's AFRAM was widely seen as a disappointment, attracting only a fraction of the crowds that organizers had hoped for and failing to break even financially.

In an attempt to increase interest, event organizers this year will organize AFRAM around nine villages, each with a distinctive theme, set up around the Pimlico infield.

The themes will focus on activities for children, as well as health and fitness, art, cultural heritage and technology - including workshops on job opportunities in technology.

O'Malley noted that it is important to have technology so prominently featured because the city is trying to boost its economy by bringing in more high-tech employers and workers.

O'Malley, joined by Baltimore Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and City Council President Sheila Dixon, said that he would work to make AFRAM the country's biggest ethnic festival, though he did not pledge financial resources.

Attendance figures for last year's three-day event, the first at Pimlico, was about 11,000, a tenth of what festival organizers said they were hoping for and far less than attedance figures from the year before.

In 1998, when the festival was held at Mondawmin Mall, about 25,000 people attended, according to AFRAM board Chairwoman Beverly Carter.

Because of the low attendance, and a resulting slide in retail sales, AFRAM did not award college scholarships last year. The festival had traditionally given out about a dozen scholarships, ranging from $500 to $2,500, to college-bound high school seniors.

"The festival has a new direction, a new sense about it this year," said Carter. "We're looking forward to it being a great success."

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