Children display their artistic sides at Artscape

THE BALTIMORE SUN

While adults were strolling among the vendors' booths and exhibits at Artscape yesterday, their children were discovering art through painting projects, crafts and entertainment from monkey trainers and tutu-wearing singers.

"We try to get them out to do hands-on activities," said Tracy Baskerville, public relations director for Baltimore's Office of Promotion and the Arts. "That's how to grab kids and get them interested in art."

Her boss, Bill Gilmore, dubbed the area that concentrated on children's activities "Kidscape."

Artscape, the city's visual, literary and performing arts festival, concluded its 22nd annual run yesterday. Organizers estimated hundreds of thousands of people attended the three-day event on and around Mount Royal Avenue.

Parents and children streamed into Artscape's self-contained children's section in Pearlstone Park, across from the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Closed off by a white picket fence, the area featured plenty of green space, outdoor sculptures and seven tents where children could make crafts to take home as souvenirs.

Some children made a beeline toward one tent where they could choose pre-cast plaster animals and colors to paint them.

Others went to the National Aquarium's tent, where they made colorful sand sharks. Sand also was used at another tent to fill clear plastic containers in the shape of birds, dolphins and seals.

Even the city's Public Works Department got into the act, bringing in a manhole cover on which kids made crayon rubbings.

Building a foundation

Under one tent, colorful large Lego blocks were sprawled across several tables.

"We worked together to build this," said Brandon Lee, 7, who constructed a bridge with his younger brother Justin, 4.

When asked how he intended to deal with a steep wall that proved a formidable obstacle to the rest of the structure, Brandon put another block in-between. "See, this is a pillow, so you fall down the side, then take another set of stairs to cross the bridge," he said.

Brandon's mother, Elizabeth Lee, 40, and father, Roger Lee, 42, brought their sons down from Baldwin to show them Artscape for the first time. It was only 1 p.m. but they already had spoils for the day. Brandon, who likes teddy bears, painted one red and gold and filled up another plastic bear with sand in a rainbow of colors.

"Brandon loves to create things. He draws, and he constantly rebuilds tracks on his train set," his mother said.

"I'm a very good artist," Brandon added.

The Lees were happy that their sons embraced the festival, and praised event organizers for the child-friendly activities.

"We'd rather them be more creative and hands-on than sit in front of the TV," said Elizabeth Lee. "I think you should start them out at an early age and get them into all facets of art."

Music and a monkey

Children also saw live performances. A singing duo called Milkshake - so named for the plastic milk bottles that Lisa Mathews and Mikel Gehl hand out to the audience - started the day on a rousing note.

Dancing up and down the aisles in a fluorescent yellow tutu and combat boots, Mathews drew toddlers, schoolchildren and parents into performances such as "The Happy Song," with kids shaking their milk containers and their bodies, and repeating simple lyrics written on a board.

"It's much more challenging doing this than slinging a guitar," said Mathews, who also plays in a rock band, Love Riot, with her Milkshake partner. "No, that's not enough for children."

Yesterday, she was in constant motion, going into the audience with a wireless microphone and asking kids questions, dancing with them and, eventually, giving them fish-head hats as a prop.

As the temperature soared into the 90s, a crowd gathered underneath the shade of a tree - but mostly to gawk at Jerry Brown and Django, his monkey. Django is trained to shake hands with children, give them a quick peck on the nose and climb on his handler's back.

Creative outlet

Karen Davis, 38, of Catonsville visited Artscape with her husband Larry, 43, and their daughters, Grace, 8, and Maeve, 4. Grace concentrated intently on painting her bunny pink, while Maeve, with a butterfly painted on her face, went the multicolored route with her turtle.

"They could spend the whole day here. They're not into looking at paintings, but they get to take this home rather than a souvenir they could buy from one of the vendors," Karen Davis said.

"I think it gives them the idea of creativity, that anything is possible, anything goes," she said.

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