Every so often we’re confronted with the stark realization of all that the COVID pandemic deprived us of — the experiences we were denied, the friendships that were deferred, the opportunities to connect with others in meaningful ways to share mutual interests and passions. The inability to revel in the enjoyment of our Baltimore’s rich artistic and cultural assets was a particular burden for our community, and those local creatives, artists and cultural institutions that make our lives so much better, so much fuller. With the return of Artscape this year, we again were able to come together, reconnect and celebrate all that we missed, all that makes Baltimore the city where artistic expression thrives.
It doesn’t just take a village; it takes the whole city to present a festival of the size and scope of Artscape. Artscape came to life Sept. 22-24 through the work of the dedicated staff of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and my co-director, Tonya Hall Miller Hall, as well as the immense support and collaboration of so many partners, generous sponsors, enthusiastic volunteers, vendors, public safety leaders and officers, the Office of the Mayor, Baltimore City services, and of course, our many artists, local creatives and musical performers.
“The energy out here is electric,” was a common sentiment. You could see it, hear it and feel it. Everywhere I looked, people were smiling, laughing and dancing in the streets. Wherever you turned, something new grabbed hold of your senses. The sights, sounds and smells of Artscape greeted us like a friend we haven’t seen for far too long. It felt so good to be back together and yet, it was like no time had passed.
Mother Nature has a way of disrupting our best laid plans. And sadly, Tropical Storm Ophelia could not be dissuaded from disrupting this long-awaited reunion, forcing us to cancel all activities on Saturday. But even the rain on Sunday was powerless in dampening the spirits of the hundreds who strolled Mount Royal Avenue and North Charles Street, browsing among the dozens of original artistic creations, dancing in the streets to the variety of live musical performances, and enjoying the abundance of food options from local restaurateurs and providers.
These past several months that I have been privileged to serve as BOPA’s interim CEO, I have been so impressed, so inspired by the immense support for Baltimore’s creative community. I’ve experienced up close and personal what feels like unanimous appreciation for artists and the experiences they make possible. This is a city that cares deeply for the arts, and understands that access to artistic expression is vital to quality of life and individual and collective empowerment. It doesn’t require a Harvard study to substantiate that exposure to the arts, and at the youngest of age, helps to create pathways for our young people, inspiring their imaginations and helping them to discover more about themselves and their limitless potential.
Baltimore is already one of those rare places along the Mid-Atlantic region where you can actually afford to be an artist! Now, think of the possibilities if we enable local artists to enliven our neighborhoods and communities in even more impactful and sustainable ways. Empty office buildings could be converted into studios and artist housing, which would only encourage even more creatives to live and work in Baltimore. Vacant storefronts could be provided at discounted “artist-occupied” rates, boosting their entrepreneurial spirit while adding to the local economy. And then, we would do well by expanding access to an even greater variety of arts programming for our children in neighborhoods north, south, east and west — providing them with life-skills, including empathy and conflict resolution, while enabling their discovery of their own creative potential.
These are just a few ideas I’ve heard floated in my many conversations with artists and stakeholders over the last few months. The consensus is clear, artists make our city stronger, and there are only upsides in providing them the ample and consistent support they need to thrive. On behalf of all who worked tirelessly to make Artscape 2023 a reality, I offer the immense gratitude of BOPA and our entire community. We rediscovered something important within us and about us: Collaboration and mutual appreciation for the creative gifts that each of us possesses is key to our success.
The simple fact remains, when creatives thrive, we all rise. Our brighter future depends on making sure they do.
Todd Yuhanick (firstname.lastname@example.org) is interim CEO of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.