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Artscape exhibitor upset over rule shift


Conrad Bladey says his "Handie Car" has become one of the images that help define Artscape. That handiwork, however, won't be on display this year.

Bladey's fits neither the premise nor the format of next month's sponsored celebration of the arts, and it has the 53-year-old part-time community college teacher crying foul.

Artscape organizers are allowing gasoline-electric hybrid or electric-powered cars only for the popular decorated-car show. The theme for the display, Autoternatives: Human Mobility and Alternative Transportation Concept, excludes Bladey and a number of long-time exhibitors' traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Artscape, a three-day event along Mount Royal Avenue, begins July 21.

"I've been doing Artscape since it started 20 years ago, and I've only missed one," Bladey said. "My basic question is, why the discrimination? I understand people don't like gas-consuming vehicles. But we've always tolerated each other."

Bladey's car, which he calls The Epicentral Shrine to the Helping Hand Vehicular, features hundreds of three-dimensional colored hands coming out of a Pontiac Grand Am.

Artscape curator Doug Retzler said the decision to not allow gasoline-powered cars was his, and he did so, in part, to "upset the apple cart and take on a new premise" that highlights pollution caused by traditional cars. The ban on gasoline cars is just for this year.

Retzler realized he would catch flak from those who, like Bladey, have exhibited gasoline-powered cars over the years. But he said he invites the dialogue and is only remorseful about not getting information out more quickly about the switch.

Participants were told gasoline cars were disallowed just last week. The application, the same form Artscape has used for year, made no mention of the change.

As of yesterday, the application remained on Artscape's Web site and still made no reference to allowing only electric and hybrid cars, which combine gasoline and electricity.

"It's like a bait-and-switch," Bladey said. "You apply for something thinking this is criteria, and you don't know why you didn't get it. They changed the guidelines without telling anybody."

Retzler said he became curator about two months ago, well after the application was available online. He said he made it clear at the time that he wanted to put his own stamp on Artscape.

Although the total number of participating cars might plummet, Retzler is inviting artists to submit drawings of alternative forms of transportation. He also wants to foster conversation near the exhibit area.

"We're facing something that's been coming for a long time. Gas systems are higher," Retzler said. "It's a show to take a look at what we do and how we get around. I think the controversy generates dialogue, and that's healthy."

To appease many of the potential out-of-town gasoline-car exhibitors, Artscape organizers have made arrangements with Altscape officials to allow the cars to be displayed near the Maryland Institute College of Art.

A takeoff of Artscape, Altscape, which runs at the same time as Artscape, was founded by Sherwin Mark to promote underground art and the new Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

Bladey said he has no plans his to enter his car into Altscape and instead is working on an alternative car parade from Montgomery County to his house.

Although the car show is generally one of the more popular exhibits, Artscape organizers expect interest to remain high without the colorful cars.

"Some people will miss the gasoline cars, some people less so," said Gary Kachodourian, Artscape arts coordinator.

"Our basic position is that it's a curated exhibition, and the curator can alter it. With any other exhibition ... nobody blinks."

More than 1.5 million people were believed to have attended Artscape last year.

The 25th annual festival, which features an array of local and national musical acts, as well as artists' exhibits, is expected to draw a similar crowd.

"Maybe it was a little cutthroat in changing the premise like I did," Retzler said. "But I have provided an alternative in Altscape.

"We're kind of having a noncar car show."

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