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Artscape celebrates creativity


TWO THINGS seem guaranteed about Artscape. Baltimore's three-day cavalcade of music and culture is usually held on one of the season's hottest weekends. And there is plenty of visual and literary arts and music to take in. Free of charge.

This year, the swelter is likely to be a no-show. (Is anyone really complaining about that?) But the performers promise to delight: from Patti LaBelle and the Neville Brothers to Abbey Lincoln, Dave Brubeck and the Tito Puente Orchestra. Also featured will be Martin O'Malley, a singer of Irish folk rock. As Baltimore's mayor, he is assured the main stage.

The longevity of Artscape -- now in its 19th year -- is easily explained: Every festival has been fresh and full of surprises. Artscape also does a good job of displaying the talents and vigor of a multicultural city. Pretty much every part of the ethnic mosaic is recognized some way, from Japanese drumming and Cambodian dancers to a plethora of African music.

In the early 1970s, when Baltimore was still recovering from riots, an annual City Fair became an instrument of healing, bringing together diverse neighborhoods to celebrate hope and urban revitalization. After the City Fair withered away, Artscape was born and has since grown. It, too, serves as a bridge to the city's diverse groups, which too often exist in isolation.

After Mayor O'Malley took office in December, his transition team said arts and culture should play "a fundamental role as economic development tools in industry and tourism." It set several long-term goals for the administration, including an increase in art and music classes in city schools, revival of an international theater festival here and creation of a regional jazz festival.

Little has been heard recently about attaining these goals. But as tens of thousands of people descend on Artscape, they will show there's a strong constituency that would favor enrichment of Baltimore's cultural offerings.

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