Art Around America: Baltimore’s Artscape 2015
It wasn’t too long ago that Baltimore’s streets were flooded with angry protests, some erupting in violent scenes that flooded the media. But the weekend of July 17-19, the streets of downtown Baltimore were packed for a different purpose: Artscape, the city’s most anticipated summer party and the country’s “largest free arts festival.”
In its 34th year, the massive fest sparked much-needed joy and celebration across an expanse of downtown Baltimore. And record-high summer temperatures didn’t stop an estimated 350,000 visitors from flocking to the event.
Hundreds of artisans and craftsmen, performance artists, musicians, and food and drink vendors exhibited at Artscape this year—with 95% of vendors hailing from the Baltimore region, according to the Baltimore Sun. Rows of white tents lined Mt. Royal Avenue and surrounding blocks, home to the city’s arts and cultural institutions like Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, The Lyric center, and Maryland Institute College of Art. Vendors exhibited (and sold) everything from garden-themed paintings, bottle-cap magnets, and vintage-advertisement screen-print posters to photographs of the Baltimore skyline, wooden bowls, hanging lightbulb terrariums, and on-trend jewelry.
Visual installations centered around this year’s theme: water. From a massive “Aqua Lounge” tent
pouring water “on draught” to artfully decorated storm drain murals dotting the curbs, festival
organizers recruited artists to draw attention to a meaningful message of conservation of the region’s
natural resources. Kids played in a “Lazy River” with water-themed sculpture and activities, while crowds
cooled off under Misty Mountain Royals—site-specific installations spraying a refreshing mist.
Another major draw for visitors year after year is a music lineup that never fails to impress. This year’s
headlining acts George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, and
Michael Franti & Spearhead anchored the three-day festival. Hometown rocker Cris Jacobs, The
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and Afrofunk heroes Chopteeth rounded out the schedule.
In addition to just-for-fun acts like Baltimore Rock Opera Society’s performance showcase “Brocean
City” (think flaming guitars and sea creature masks), organizers presented a panel of cast members from
HBO’s “The Wire,” who led a discussion on empowering the city’s youth.
For the city’s local artists, a major highlight of the annual festival is the announcement of the Janet &
Walter Sondheim Artscape prize. The competition awards a $25,000 fellowship to visual artist or visual
artist collaborators living and working in the region, plus a chance to showcase their work at the Baltimore
Museum of Art. This year’s Sondheim prize was awarded to Wickerham & Lomax, whose entry consisted
of both sculptures and an interactive website exploring “the membership of clubs and other kinds of social
With all eyes on Baltimore, local organizers, artists, and patrons worked hard to make this year’s
Artscape a huge success—and it couldn’t have been better.
We’ll be talking about more arts fairs and festivals across the summer. Have an event that you want to
see covered? Let us know!