Rain or Shine: Artscape 2023’s Vision is a Thriving Creative Economy

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It’s been three years since Baltimore’s last Artscape festival, formerly a sweaty, quirky, carnivalesque, artsy favorite hosted during summer days so hot it hurts. 

In its heyday, Artscape was described as “the largest free outdoor arts festival in the country” and boasted a few hundred thousand attendees over three days.

Now, after a three-year hiatus and a move to September, it’s natural that it will take a few years to build back. These days it’s being cautiously described as “one of the largest free outdoor arts festivals” in the country, and while it may be diminished in size this year, it’s worth considering if Artscape can come back better, rather than bigger. But what does better actually mean?


[ARTSCAPE UPDATE: Saturday’s Festival is Cancelled due to Tropical Storm Ophelia. Friday and Sunday are still on!}


Outdoor installation with work by Derrick Adams and Erin Douglass, parking lot at corner of Charles Street and North Ave.

In the past, Artscape was organized by BOPA, Baltimore’s Office of Promotion and the Arts, a non-profit quasi-governmental organization that has (full disclosure) been supportive of BmoreArt when many other organizations have not. So, while I have not agreed with many of BOPA’s decisions and cancellations during the pandemic, their institutional aid to BmoreArt as a small, independent publication has been meaningful and in many cases, transformative. 

Everyone agrees that Baltimore is a city brimming with talent and style. In order to approach its potential for greatness, we need more large, well-funded organizations willing to support much smaller projects, initiatives, and entities. Artscape, for all its corny chicken-on-a-stick, Banksy knockoff, spray-me-with-a-giant-hose carnival aesthetic, has supported a broad ecosystem of creative makers, artists, performers, and local businesses–and supported them directly, rather than making them jump through endless hoops and time consuming grant applications–consistently, over the past two decades.

This is important because, historically, our city government and economic development drivers have not been particularly supportive, nor made it easy for artists and cultural organizations to grow and thrive–and we can see this in so many current organizations closing, or currently without leadership beyond its founding director (which is another story).

For anything it may have lacked, Artscape has been a beloved experience that has attracted people into Baltimore’s cultural district year after year, so the bar is set high for its return. I cannot tell you how many collectors I have interviewed over the last decade who have told me they purchased their first work of art at Artscape, or artists who were given an opportunity to present their first funded public art projects.


Senator Hayes, Todd Yuhanick, Lou Joseph, First Lady Dawn Moore, and Tonya Miller Hall with Scott Pennington sculpture located on Mount Royal Avenue near MICA
Derrick Adams, installation at the corner of N. Charles Street and North Ave

In past years, Artscape put the Sondheim Prize at the center of the festival, with an entire network of participating galleries that were all marketed and elevated together, curated from the artists who applied to the competition. This was accomplished with support from local banks and businesses in order to attract new audiences, not just to the museums and larger venues, but to a variety of smaller and artist-run galleries. 

This year, as we commence a new Artscape set in September, and whether it rains all weekend, the question in mind is this: how do we measure the success of this new arts festival? If not in foot traffic, do we measure it in positive anecdotes, social media posts, artists projects funded, or dollars spent? Do we measure in state and local funding that trickles down to artists and organizations? Can Artscape be judged based upon lasting economic and cultural impact? And if so, what does that look like?

“We have all of these great institutions but it’s unclear if they are being intentional about creating a retention workforce,” says Tonya Miller Hall, Senior Advisor, Office of Arts & Culture for the Mayor’s Office, formerly Marketing Director for BOPA. “Part of this new Artscape is to model how to understand artists as a viable workforce, an important part of Baltimore’s economy. The creatives are a significant public interest group that should be considered when people consider economic development. This Artscape should be a case study in how this can be done.”

“We are so excited Artscape is back and thrilled to be a part of this great Baltimore tradition,” says Todd Yuhanick, Interim CEO of BOPA. “Artscape has always been an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the creatives of our beloved city and we have really leaned into that this year. The majority of the artists, performers, vendors, and organizations that are taking part in Artscape 2023 are from the Baltimore area, so the visionary talent of Charm City will be on full display this weekend.”

Placing Baltimore-based artists, vendors, curators, and exhibits at the center of Artscape and considering artists as significant economic drivers is a great start.


Artscape Changes in 2023


Public art installation by Paul Shortt, located on Mount Royal Avenue near MICA
Public art on Mount Royal

Free Public Transportation.

For this year’s Artscape, the city is offering FREE light rail service, free MTA commuter buses, along with MARC trains, and MobilityLink van serviceall weekend long. Whether you board out in the burbs or Mount Washington, Hampden, etc. this weekend you can be dropped off in the heart of Artscape on Mount Royal Avenue near MICA for free.

There is free bike parking available at several locations, as well as specific ride-share drop off and pick up locations. This is a nice touch and more people should know about this!

More info about free public transportation and Artscape weekend logistics can be found here.


Tonya Miller Hall speaks at Artscape kick-off on Thursday, Sept 21 with First Lady Dawn Moore and MD State Senator Antonio Hayes
If we are investing in creatives and the creative class, creating opportunities for artists to do much bigger projects than ever before, and funding those properly, the passion and commitment you get from our creative community is bar none. The artists are looking for more real estate to activate and we need to continue to support them.
Tonya Miller Hall

More Inclusivity With Locally Based Businesses, Restaurants, and Cultural Organizations.

For the first time, locally based restaurants are participants, rather than exclusively prioritizing outside food vendors. In previous years, the restaurants on restaurant row (Charles Street corridor) were not positioned to capture revenue as an official part of Artscape.

“Part of my vision, a year or so ago around Artscape, is how do we create spaces where everyone can be included in the party?” says Miller Hall. “This year we have included small businesses in the neighborhood, but also MICA, the BSO, and the Lyric are also participating, and this is what great cities do. They create opportunities for our businesses and cultural organizations to come together and share audiences and opportunities.”


No King's Collective, completing a street mural on North Avenue on Sept 21
Todd Yuhanick, BOPA CEO, and Tonya Miller Hall, Senior Advisor, Mayor's Office of Art and Culture
The majority of the artists, performers, vendors, and organizations that are taking part in Artscape 2023 are from the Baltimore area, so the visionary talent of Charm City will be on full display this weekend.
Todd Yuhanick, BOPA CEO

A Shared Leadership Model: BOPA, Mayor’s Office, and Central Baltimore Partnership 

This year, Artscape is being shared between three primary entities: BOPA, the Mayor’s Office, and the Station North Arts District (SNAD), which is operated by the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), a nonprofit economic development organization. 

Artscape will occur on its traditional footprint in the Bolton Hill and Mount Royal neighborhoods. This includes the 1300-1800 blocks of Charles Street and along Mount Royal Avenue through the heart of Mount Vernon’s cultural district, with the Sondheim Semi-Finalist exhibition inside at MICA, installation and public art along Mount Royal’s median strip, multiple stages, and white vendor tents lining the streets.

But in 2023, Artscape is expanding across North Avenue into Station North, with indoor and outdoor exhibits including Derrick Adams, vendors including Made in Baltimore and Queerscape, and performances, including Fluid Movement, burlesque, concerts, and Dj’s. 


Jaz Erenberg mural, Portals & Passageway, at 1919 N. Charles Street in a former gas station, the site for an Artscape kick-off on Thursday, Sept 21 with First Lady Dawn Moore and MD State Senator Antonio Hayes
First Lady Dawn Moore visits the Artscape Print Fair, inside the Fitzgerald's former Barnes and Nobles site

Mount Royal Footprint, Historically where Artscape has Functioned Offers Music, Fashion, and Everyone’s Favorite Exhibition at MICA.

Music (Inside and Outside)

This year there’s a Main Stage, a MICA Stage, a Station North Stage, and a North by North Stage. Musical performances run the gamut from rap and hip-hop, jazz and soul, and largely feature Baltiomore-based performers like King Midas, Chiffon, Ultra Nate, and even a BSO performance at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. More info here:


Exhibition (Inside)

Sondheim Semi-Finalists Exhibition at MICA’s Meyerhoff and Fox Galleries on Mount Royal Avenue. This year’s semi-finalists include Aliana Grace Bailey, Amanda Burnham, Anderson Woof, David Page, Hope and Faith, Elliot Doughtie, Guilia Livi, Jenny Reed, Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Kelli Williams, and Rae Reed. More info here:



At Charles and Lafayette, a weekend long fashion experience includes runway shows, showcases with emerging and established designers, a fashion mixer, and panel discussions featuring members of the Baltimore Met Gala team like Earle Bannister, and participants and Baltimore Design School. More info here:


Print Fair (Inside)

New this year, Artscape is offering a Literary, Emerging Art, and Print Fair in the Fitzgerald Building’s former site of Barnes & Nobles. The fair includes Lauren Turner, Jacob Goldsmith, Lorraine Collective, E. Evans Paul, and thirty or so other locally based vendors. Personally, I would have liked to have seen some version of the beloved and well attended Prints and Multiples Fair here, with established literary organizations like Red Emma’s, CityLit, Baker Artist Awards, Press Press, and BmoreArt, with area bookshops in this space as well, but perhaps next year?


Artist Derrick Adams at Artscape Sept 21
Tonya Miller Hall and Todd Yuhanick
We are very intentionally encouraging people to cross North Avenue and experience the historic North Avenue Market, which is fully activated, with every storefront offering a new experience.
Abby Becker, Director of the Station North Arts District

North of North: An Expanded Artscape Footprint in Station North (Inside and Outside)

Areas along North Avenue between Charles Street and Maryland Avenue will be activated, as well as Charles Street up to W. 20th Street.

According to Jack Danna, Director of Commercial Revitalization for CBP, “What is important, as you walk North on Charles Street and cross over the bridge, there is a subtle transition you will feel that is hyper-local.” This begins with an artist market and installation located across from The Charles Theatre in the open lot and parking garage.

“We are very intentionally encouraging people to cross North Avenue and experience the historic North Avenue Market, which is fully activated, with every storefront offering a new experience,” says Abby Becker, Director of the Station North Arts District. “Even for people with limited mobility, it’s a mini-Artscape in the span of a single block,” she says, with maker markets, exhibitions, immersive installations, and performances occurring all weekend.

According to Miller Hall, this year Artscape is investing in projects that will last far beyond one weekend, with a series of murals, public sculptures and installations, designed to brighten some of the blighted parts of Station North between Mount Vernon and Charles Village along the Charles Street Corridor.

“We are deeply committed to the arts and their social impact, after many years of discourse around becoming good stewards to the community, placing arts and culture at the center and understanding they are the fabric of anything you do.” Miller Hall cites new mural projects by Jaz Erenberg and Adam Stab, and a new, beautifully landscaped Pocket Park as examples of lasting public projects in the district, where graffiti is cleaned up and commissioned and public gathering spaces are created. 

Also in Station North, highlights include the B-23 Group exhibition curated by BOPA’s Kirk Shannon Butts, Liz Faust, and Rhea Beckett, Nerve Center, a giant installations by TLaloC, a Mobtown Ballroom Pop-up, Scott Pennington’s Blinkatorium, a Beer Garden, Family Karaoke, Film Festival, and  numerous other projects which can be found here:


Jaz Erenberg, with her mural, Portals & Passageway, at 1919 N. Charles Street
Derrick Adams, with outdoor public Artscape installation

Recognizing the Importance of Artists as a Significant Economic Driver, Much-Needed in Baltimore.

From my perspective, a successful Artscape is one that invests strategically into our local arts economy–a system that continues to grow at an organic level up to a point, which would benefit from intelligent, research-based, forward thinking institutional dollars, not a one-time, feel-good Oprah-style giveaway.

Perhaps this sounds like a Bidenomics infomercial, but when we invest in the “middle out and the bottom up,” we are making smart public investments that benefit our city as a whole. We also empower and educate the middle class which is a vast and largely untapped resource in Maryland for Baltimore City, and the primary audience members and patrons for a successful Artscape 2023.

This is a chorus echoed by all entities involved in planning this year’s Artscape: the desire to support artists and organizations on their terms, to effect positive change that lasts longer than one weekend, to pool resources to collectively elevate the city through art and culture, and to sustain an economy that supports culture workers. 

“This has been a labor intensive learning curve for all of us,” says Miller Hall. “But, if we are investing in creatives and the creative class, creating opportunities for artists to do much bigger projects than ever before, and funding those properly, the passion and commitment you get from our creative community is bar none. The artists are looking for more real estate to activate and we need to continue to support them.”

While I think that this year’s Artscape will be a “rebuilding” year and offer a bit of trial and error, a combination of new attempts and old favorites, I am seeing some indication of positive, lasting change. It recognizes that the arts, specifically ARTISTS, are valuable to Baltimore City, not just as cute show ponies for a weekend festival for tourists, but as part of a greater vision for an economic revival led, at least in part, by actual creative communities, and that these contributions last all year long so the support should as well.

Rain or shine, and despite weather-related cancellations, I hope this weekend festival builds new networks and support for these creatives by attracting vital audiences, patrons, and customers from within and also outside Baltimore City.

From Jill Fannon’s photos from a September 21 Artscape kickoff tour and reception hosted for MD First Lady Dawn Moore and MD State Senator Antonio Hayes, where the first lady announced a $1.5 million investment in Artscape from the state of MD, the goal of bringing different people together to enjoy and appreciate potential and reality of Baltimore-based art and culture is a great start.


BOPA's Todd Yuhanick and Derrick Adams
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