Jason Simpkins is something of an Artscape veteran.
The 35-year-old, who lives in Highlandtown, has been going to the outdoor arts festival every year for roughly the past decade. And this year, he’ll come prepared, sporting a CamelBak filled with water, plus an umbrella for shade on-demand.
This weekend’s festival is poised to be the hottest since 2010, with temperatures likely to climb into the triple digits — or at least feel like it. Humidity could make temperatures near 100 degrees this weekend feel ten degrees hotter, and Baltimore health officials have issued a “Code Red” heat advisory in the city for Tuesday through Sunday.
Temperatures at Artscape have routinely reached the mid 90s and high 80s, and rainstorms are also fairly common, like at last year’s festival, when Saturday’s festivities were met with wet weather and umbrella-inverting wind.
But this year’s humidity, which is fueling the sweltering heat indexes, promises one of the hottest Artscapes in recent memory.
Despite the consistently high temperatures at the festival, it’s unlikely it will be moved to a different time of the year, said Tracy Baskerville, a spokesman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, which hosts Artscape.
“Artscape is always the third full weekend in July. This time of year works, because we use several of the venues in the Mt. Royal/Station North community such as University of Baltimore and Modell Center at the Lyric which is when these venues are usually dark for the summer,” she wrote.
The heat hasn’t stopped Simpkins from attending Artscape before.
“It’s pretty much always in the 90s or a torrential downpour,” he said.
But this year’s heat extremes led him to joke with a friend on Twitter about purchasing a parasol specifically for the festival.
This weekend, there will be an extra cooling bus on-site, which is sponsored by the Maryland Transit Administration, Baskerville said.
The Baltimore Fire Department is sponsoring a misting station and cooling tent, as it has in previous years, she said. There are also indoor activities where attendees can go to cool off, like the film showings at the Parkway Theater and the video game showcase Gamescape.
For Liz Cornish, 37, who lives in Charles Village, the high temperatures at this year’s event and at Artscapes past is the perfect segue into necessary conversations about the extreme weather caused by climate change.
Connecting the impacts of climate change to real-life events is a key part of supplanting the “doom and gloom” feelings for meaningful discussion about how changes in weather patterns affect our social fabric, she said.
Not to mention that avoiding Artscape for the heat negates the hard work of artists preparing for the festival.
“The key is to realize that a lot of artists put a ton of work into designing things for Artscape and I think it is important to take time and go out and support their work,” she said. “Now, whether I’m going to do that with an all-day hangout session Saturday or Sunday? Probably not.”
For Simpkins, the heat is almost an integral part of the Artscape experience.
“Part of the fun of summer is being outside and feeling the heat,” Simpkins said. “If you're just inside in the air conditioning for three months you’re not really making the most of it.”
Simpkins found out about Artscape when he moved to Mount Vernon after graduating from college, and has gone every year since.
“It’s almost like Christmas to me,” he said. “I look forward to it every year.”
This year, he’ll still go to see his favorites, including the break-dancing competition and the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, but he said he might aim for the evenings instead of going during the hottest parts of the day.
Looking at the forecast for the weekend, he thought to himself: “That’s hot — even for Artscape,” he said.