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Artscape’s Indelible Silver Lining: A Recap

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For so many Baltimore residents, Artscape has been a constant, a tradition long in our memories—at least before the pandemic. You could always count on the blistering heat, drinking in the street, unique art interventions, a torrential downpour at some point, and festival-goers returning year after year.

The absence of Artscape in recent years has created a feeling of a summer out of step, like the memories of the past didn’t happen, a skip into an alternate reality where the city is seemingly devoid of an accessible cultural scene. Artscape is an annual surrender of the cities’ wallsall spaces are open, and the silos and segregation of business as usual disappear, at least temporarily, in ways I’ve only seen during mass protests or sports celebrations. Despite its urban landscape, Baltimore often feels like a series of interconnected suburbs that only allow themselves to gather for these grand occasions.  

 

Made in Baltimore shop on Charles Street

With the new date, change in season, change in leadership at the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA), and involvement of new partners like the Mayor’s Office and the Station North Arts District, this felt like a different Artscape from the jump. Given the recent history that most of us have experienced in this country, the air of cynicism was high, particularly with the numerous PR snafus and last minute changes to the schedule and musical line-up. Taking this into account, I tried to walk into Artscape with an open mindas even though it was the return of a long tradition, it was also a year of firsts.  

Having been both a viewer and an organizer to many complex exhibitions and events, I know it’s often easy to criticize something without knowing the interior struggles and necessities of running arts organizations that we unfortunately have to depend on or answer to, and a non-profit model that is limiting. Putting on an event in Baltimore, and in general, requires lots of hard work, negotiation, favors from co-conspirators and sometimes frenemies, timing, and luck.

Jaz Erenberg mural and light show, photo courtesy Artscape IG
Artscape Signage in Station North
Scott Pennington's Blinkatorium
Artscape Friday night on the Charles Street Bridge
Artscape Vendor Market
Artscape Vendor Market

I started my walk from Lafayette away from Greenmount West, surprisingly devoid of activities on Friday, October 22, the opening night of Artscape. The meeting of the Charles Street bridge and the rest of Artscape brought a rush of welcome foot traffic. There were multiple vendor markets activating not only the parking lots but also Metro Gallery itself.

Art markets, in the years since the start of the pandemic, have approached a near ubiquity for any event, especially ones featuring music. In the past, typically summer Artscape, the indoor activities were often aligned with cooling off and drinking. Either way, having the art markets feels like a fresh idea and a welcome way to engage as many artists as possible, beyond the claustrophobic crush of vendors on the Charles Street bridge. 

I stopped by the Blinkatorium next, inside the parking garage across from the Charles Theater, a group of light sculptures by Scott Pennington. I was reminded of the many other moments that happened in this space, including a mini art fair in past years hosted by Open Space and the Franklin Street galleries, April Lewis’s interactive “white guilt” confession booth, as well as retrieving sculptures with Marian Glebes in the rain during one of the many cooling and chaotic storms of Artscapes past.

The cool autumn darkness of the garage provided an appropriate backdrop for Pennington’s illuminated carnival sculptures that recall movie marquees, Nam June Paik’s larger than life robots, and carnival ridesperfect for the “State Fair” feel of autumn Artscape. 

 

Inside Scott Pennington's Blinkatorium
Scott Pennington's Blinkatorium
Fluid Movement Performance in the Blinkatorium during Artscape
Night Owl Gallery exhibit of Kelly Walker and Rosa Leff, photo courtesy of Joan Cox IG

From there I checked out the new art space above Royal Blue, Night Owl Gallery. Perusing the abstract street-art-inspired work of Kelly Walker and cut paper pieces by Rosa Leff, the new density on this corner of Maryland Avenue is a welcome case for interdependence of venues, instead of expecting one venue to do it all. 

From Night Owl I walked up to the now defunct YNot Lot, the once vibrant and still used community space that was transformed in this Artscape iteration into a beer garden run by No Land Beyond.

This was faced by several food stalls selling oxtail, and an exhibition in the parking lot across the street showcasing large Derrick Adams portraits printed on vinyl and photos of Black Burning Man attendees by Erin Douglass.

One of the more notable additions to the area north of North Ave, was the change to the famous DIY billboard that had featured the term, “End it” for more than a year, referencing the Baltimore band End It. Powered by Station North and the Mayor’s Office, it now features an Adam Stab original painting with the phrase “Inspire Creativity.” Here I ran into an old friend and we decided to walk around together checking out the rest of the festival. 

 

Mural by Adam Stab, corner of Charles and North Ave, photo courtesy of Artscape IG
Derrick Adams Vinyl Portrait Installation, corner of Charles and North Ave, Station North, photo courtesy of Artscape IG
Outdoor Installation by Derrick Adams and Erin Douglass
Photography Installation by Erin Douglass
Photography Installation by Erin Douglass

We walked further up the block on North Avenue, now in front of the former ICA gallery space in the Station North Market, to check out the festival’s “B-23” exhibit, curated by BOPA’s Kirk Shannon-Butts, who was outside the gallery with BmoreArt-featured artist Jessy DeSantis. Shannon-Butts’ curatorial vision for the “B-23” show was to illuminate often overlooked artists in the cultural zeitgeist of Baltimore’s art scene. This was a refreshing take considering the sometimes cynical, sometimes accurate perception among some artists of repeats or favoritism, especially in regards to organizations like BOPA—which has the unenviable task of trying to appease all corners of our small city’s artworld. 

Screenprints by Alex D’Agostino echoed old mail-order smut and super 8 films like Scorpio Rising. The otherworldly embroidery by Jennifer McBrien, and the elevated delicate intimacy of Joan Cox’s work would be a welcome oasis of calm in any context. During the non-Friday night setting, the DJ seemed out of step with the acoustic realities of the North Avenue Market’s concrete box—creating a room so raucous I could hardly pay attention to what I was looking at. 

 

"B-23" Exhibit curated by Kirk Shannon-Butts at North Avenue Market, photo courtesy of Joan Cox IG
Paintings by Joan Cox and Kid Balloon in the "B-23" Exhibit curated by Kirk Shannon-Butts at North Avenue Market, photo courtesy of Joan Cox IG
"B-23" Exhibition curated by Kirk Shannon-Butts, North Avenue Market, photo courtesy of Artscape IG
"B-23" is a welcome retrospective of hardworking artists in Baltimore, some of whom you could call artist’s artists: folks that people making and doing their own work admire."
Quentin Gibbeau

In particular I was struck by Windy Day, the bold and deceptively complex composition by Jefferey Felton-Green. It is reminiscent of Faith Ringold’s quilt work and traditional Haitian folk art, while simultaneously recalling a haute couture fashion shoot. This balanced with Brad Ziegler’s skate based street photography, and Kolpeace’s unison of street art and intimate portraiture, which was literally rendered with fire.

It is a welcome retrospective of hardworking artists in Baltimore, some of whom you could call artist’s artists: folks that people making and doing their own work admireregardless of whether they are currently represented by an institution or at an art fair. They are mentors, lifers, and even folks who serve as infrastructure in the arts community—such as Ernest Shaw Jr. and his somewhat different abstract work in this exhibition—as well as Shannon-Butts himself. 

The viability of the new Artscape weekend, with its new obstacles, was the topic for every conversation I encountered this first night. This was particularly true on North Avenue in front of the “B-23” show, where I encountered the organizers, whose lives it had dominated for the past several months.

Jessy DeSantis had curated a show on display at Motor House featuring the works of Rowan Bathurst and many others. The consensus among this group was a resignation that despite their best efforts in negotiation, criticism, and setbacks, mother nature struck again. But there was also hope that the storm might not destroy the festival, and a palpable feeling that they did the best they could do in the circumstances. 

 

Artscape Sunset Friday evening
Outside MICA's Brown Center during Artscape
MICA's Brown Center
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA

Moving on from this conversation, my friend reflected, “I think people are just being too hard on Artscape. It took several years off and the expectations are too high for it to be perfect. With the storm, there’s no way for it to be perfect. Maybe it’s just gonna be what it’s gonna be this year.” Indeed this was a sentiment reflected from a few different organizers, a feeling of foreboding that the “haters” appraisal of the situation, and their misgivings, would be correct. 

At MICA, an exhibition of eleven Sondheim Prize semifinalists featured contemporary work by Aliana Bailey, Amanda Burnham, Andersen Woof, David Page, Eleisha Faith & Tonisha Hope McCorkle (Faith & Hope), Elliot Doughtie, Giulia Livi, Jennifer Reed, Katherine Mann, Kelli Williams, and Rae Anna Hample. This annual exhibit, organized by BOPA and curated by Lou Joseph featured art from across a wide spectrum of painting, photography, sculpture, animation, and fiber.

Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA, weaving by Aliana Grace Bailey
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA, Artist Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann
Artscape Exhibit of Sondheim Semi-Finalists at MICA, Artist Elliot Doughtie

We decided to head down Charles Street walking south into a memory palace, each geographical element of the bridge recalling some aspect of Artscape past.

In 2016 there were the #AFROMATION protests that blocked 83. That year’s Artscape, with its captive audience of folks who had likely avoided intellectually confronting the issue, was the perfect venue to stage such an intervention to protest police misconduct. The police seemed to reinforce their own criticisms by letting the protestors bake in paddy wagons in the 100 degree heat after the arrests, a move rife with hubris after the Freddy Gray uprising.

By the time we got to the “Man Woman” statue, I recalled the Baltimore Rock Opera Society pelting the statue with water balloons, every hour on the hour, treating the sculpture as a threatening giant, a relevant intervention that the Rock Opera Society has been able to contribute to the larger cultural landscape. 

Other elements of this year’s Artscape also recalled great artist inventions of the past. The large orange gates almost seemed a direct reference to Christo’s famed Central Park installation “The Gates,” providing a decorative yet unobtrusive aspect for attendees, familiar enough to feel iconic for photo ops. These sculptures paired nicely with the earlier sunset, not typical of a usual Artscape. Walking up Mount Royal Avenue, I was struck by the odd phenomena of the earlier twilight, the lack of heat, and the feeling of Artscape evolving into a night market. 

 

Orange Sculptural Gates throughout Artscape, photo courtesy of Artscape IG
Artscape pups!
Artscape pups!
Artscape pups!
Station North Arts District
Artscape’s indelible silver lining is its spontaneity and serendipity, where humanity and creativity cross paths, and even the accidental community that freak weather events cause.
Quentin Gibbeau

Throughout Artscape weekend, and in particular its reprieve during the tropical storm intermission, the general discussion among attendees and peers oscillated between Artscape recollections and visions for its future, from it transforming into a nighttime-only operation, or back to summer but including a siesta to beat the heat. September, while usually mild, is also hurricane season in a coastal city, a move that seems to present the same amount of obstacles as the climate change furnace that July in Baltimore has become in recent years. 

Ending my night at Comptoir du Vin for dinner before TSU and TT the Artist’s blistering dance performance on Maryland Avenue (and one of the only places mostly hidden from the club music) I thought about what Artscape means, in all its imperfection, in a city like Baltimore in this moment in time. 

To myself and the many participants I talked to, Artscape’s indelible silver lining is its spontaneity and serendipity, where humanity and creativity cross paths, and even the accidental community that freak weather events cause—such as chasing down a floating sculpture in a rainstorm with random passersby. In my own memory, it was the importance of what happened in or around Artscape rather than the events themselves, an accidental endorsement of the importance of street activation and city organized cultural eventslife happens. 

Kelly Xio, poet and curator, told me that her and poet Anna Crook’s long running Tender FM poetry series from the Crown’s Halcyon days, would not have been possible without a random Artscape poetry reading in which they became fast friends.

Another friend shared an anecdote of a failed art piece on the bridge which quickly became an emperor’s new clothes style performance work in which said friend acted as a carnival barker to convince passerby to enter into a tent that conspicuously had nothing in it. This would illuminate aspects of her own later art practice, an accidental Dadaist self-reveal.

And still another brought up that she met her husband at Artscape, two Baltimoreans fittingly moving in concentric social circles until they found one another, like most of us, at the corner of North and Charles. 

 

The Artscape B23 exhibition featured the work of: Rodney Jones II, Julianna Dail, Christopher Batten, Ann Stoddard, Bliss Army Knife, Jeffrey Felten-Green, Ernest Shaw, Corey Baker, Mark West, Joan Cox, Alexander D’Agostino, Kyle Yearwood, Kim Rice, Miranda Ratner, Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Sheila Crider, Bishear Allen, Derrick Smith, Brad Ziegler, Kolpeace, Jennifer McBrien, Ainsley Burrows, Arit Emmanuela Etukudo, and Eugene Coles.

Artscape Vendors Market
Artscape Vendors Market
Fluid Movement's Roller Skate Performance Signage
The Blinkatorium on Charles Street
Fluid Movement's Roller Skate Performance at Artscape Friday night
Fluid Movement's Roller Skate Performance at Artscape Friday night
Fluid Movement's Roller Skate Performance at Artscape Friday night
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