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After a flurry of final touches, Artscape off to smooth start

It is 10:38 a.m., and already Bill Gilmore has:

Soothed an agent who was demanding perks for his entertainer-client, held a last-minute staff meeting, delegated the task of helping a vendor hang a curtain to separate her booth from a competitor's, realized he has forgotten to borrow a gigantic American flag to hang on a stage, and helped assemble a pair of crimson-colored vinyl tents, in which hot and weary participants of this year's Artscape, the city's annual celebration of visual, musical, dramatic and literary arts, can be refreshed by a gently blowing mist.

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None of which, it appears, fazes him in the least. For Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, it's all part of planning the $800,000 festival that opened last night and will -- if all goes well -- draw hundreds of thousands of people to Baltimore's "cultural corridor" along Mount Royal Avenue this weekend.

Pulling off an event like Artscape requires carrying out a delicate balancing act among the widely varied requirements of artists, professional entertainers, vendors and corporate sponsors (including The Sun).

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"There's really no crisis at the moment," he said late yesterday morning. "It's pretty calm."

Things were less serene Thursday night. That was when someone reported what Artscape officials describe only as a "sewage problem" at the main stage, where rhythm-and-blues artist Al Green and jazz singer Kim Waters performed last night.

"The city came right out and fixed it," Gilmore said, declining to contemplate the consequences had the city crews done otherwise.

The absence of frantic calls for last-minute help was underscored by David Geller, producer of the three-day event's live entertainment. "It's more methodical this year. Everything is so much more relaxed," he said. "It's a sign that things are going as they should."

Problem-free, of course, is the way Gilmore wanted it. After all, there should not be a crisis after almost a year of planning.

Expansion plans

But if Gilmore has his way, Artscape will be even bigger and draw even larger crowds in the future.

"We think that the quality of the program here merits more," said Gilmore.

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Next year, he said, the festival hopes to evolve from an event that mostly draws from the metropolitan area to a regional celebration of the arts, attracting tourists from Virginia, Washington and as far north as New York.

While some other efforts by the city to attract greater numbers of tourists have not succeeded, it may be a mistake to discount Gilmore.

He has been with the Office of Promotion and the Arts -- and its predecessors -- for 25 years, first joining as a part-time graphic artist.

More remarkable, however, is that in an age of political cronyism, he has not only survived four mayors -- William Donald Schaefer, Clarence H. Du Burns, Kurt L. Schmoke and Martin O'Malley -- but risen in the ranks.

He was appointed executive director by Schmoke in 1990. And two years ago, O'Malley broadened Gilmore's responsibilities by putting him in charge of all of the city's annual public events, such as the fireworks displays on New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, the Preakness celebration and Thanksgiving Day parade, the Book Festi- val and Farmers Market.

Now, his department, in conjunction with the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, plans an Artscape advertising campaign next spring, targeting tourists north and south. "What we'd like to do is to ... get people to come for the weekend," Gilmore said.

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Attracting tourists

The advertising, he said, will be mainly contained to magazines and radio, which he described as more "cost effective."

"It doesn't have to cost a lot of money," he said. "There are ways of getting advertising that doesn't necessarily involve The New York Times."

He and other officials are also trying to persuade managers of area hotels to offer special room rates for Artscape weekend and work out transportation deals with Amtrak and airlines.

Attracting more people would be an economic stimulus to the city and local artists, he said.

But before he can focus on next year, Gilmore has to get through this weekend.

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And it will be a long weekend, indeed, he knows.

Yesterday, he worked until midnight. He'll be back at 7:30 this morning. On Sunday, the last day of the festival, Gilmore will stay until all vestiges of the festival have been removed.

"We try to return the streets back to normal" before rush hour Monday morning.

For Artscape, the city closes off about 12 blocks to traffic, filling them and the sidewalks with 346 snow-white tents, in which artists of all stripes display their talents; vendors hawk food, desserts and beverages; and performing artists entertain on three stages.

When the streets are cleared of the tents and scaffolding and replaced with bumper-to-bumper traffic on Monday, then Gilmore, who says he's "49 on a good day," can think about a vacation he planned to Aspen to see his niece.

But he can't relax for long. He has to make sure the annual Book Festival in September runs as smoothly as Artscape.

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Streets closed

Several streets around the Maryland Institute College of Art will be closed for the 2003 Artscape celebration.

Closed streets include Park Avenue from Cathedral to Howard streets; Mount Royal Avenue from Maryland to North Avenue and Preston Street from Cathedral to Howard streets; Mount Royal from Maryland Avenue to Charles Street; and Maryland Avenue from Lanvale to Preston Street. The closures will continue until 6 a.m. Monday.

Several area streets also will have one-way traffic patterns through Monday morning, and parking will be restricted. Residential permit parking will be strictly enforced. Visitors are encouraged to use public transportation.

The Light Rail stops closest to Artscape are the University of Baltimore/Mount Royal on Mount Royal Avenue and the Cultural Center on Howard Street. Light Rail service hours will be extended until 11 p.m. on Sunday. Closest MTA bus lines are the Nos. 3, 10, 11, 19, 14 (Sunday only), 21, 27, 31 and 91. More information on bus, Metro Subway, Light Rail and Paratransit service is available by calling 410-539-5000, or toll-free, 866-RIDE-MTA. Online: www.mtamaryland.com.


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