Mayor Martin O'Malley was only half-joking yesterday when he told the happy crowd gathered at the Lyric Opera House that the best thing about this year's 25th anniversary celebration of Artscape is that it's still free.
The mayor was on hand to announce the 25 best reasons to attend Baltimore's annual three-day outdoor arts festival, which opens July 21. He might have added that similar events elsewhere, such as the Bumbershoot art and music festival in Seattle, can cost up to $255 for a deluxe weekend pass.
"Artscape is Baltimore's gift to the region," O'Malley said of the hometown festival, which this year hopes to put on a show that's bigger and better than ever, with headliner concerts by Teena Marie and Common, dance programs at the Lyric, free classical music concerts by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, a fashion show and, for the first time, a fireworks display.
"After 25 years, Artscape continues to bring thousands of people together from all backgrounds to enjoy the offerings of Baltimore's great local arts community," O'Malley said.
The pyrotechnics, produced by Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, the firm that puts on fireworks displays at the Inner Harbor on New Year's Eve and the Fourth of July, will begin on opening night at 10.
The budget for this year's event is more than $1 million -- up from $800,000 last year -- said Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which organizes the event.
"Very few festivals this size are free," Gilmore said. "We've raised more than $1 million in cash for this year's event, and that doesn't even include in-kind services and the support we've gotten from the City of Baltimore and institutions like the University of Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the BSO and the Lyric Foundation."
Artscape is the largest arts festival in the mid-Atlantic region, attracting upward of a million visitors over the course of the three-day weekend.
Outdoor performances will take place on four concert stages featuring live music in a variety of styles -- including rock, soul, hip-hop and reggae -- by national, regional and local groups such as Citizen Cope, Goapele, Brazilian Girls, and Michael Franti & Spearhead.
Dance events at the Lyric will include performances by the Philadelphia-based company Philadanco, Sankofa Dance Theater, Love Peace Project & The LP-3 Dance Collective and the Afridansa Professional Dance Company.
The BSO will perform two free Saturday concerts of classical music at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, which will also be the venue for a Saturday concert by the Greater Baltimore Youth Orchestra. On Sunday, the hall will host the 17th annual Baltimore Billie Holiday Vocal Competition for jazz singers.
Fashion at Artscape, which debuted last year, returns this year to Gordon Plaza at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues, where visitors can sit along the catwalk to watch the show. And the Theater Project will host a series of performances during its annual The Play's The Thing program.
As usual, the festival will present exhibitions of visual art both on- and off-site, more than 100 craftspeople from across the country, and an international menu of good things to eat and drink in the festival's enclosed food court.