• Sarah Rozmiarek

RIP Artscape 2020: Remembering Artscape 2017

Originally published August 3, 2017

Two weeks ago, Steve Baker, a professional, friendly man, happily anticipated the unveiling of something that was two-stories tall, only movable by crane, and needed over 50 cans of spray paint.

Baker is a Hampden-based sculptor specializing in large recycled metal and colored glass sculptures. He built a large campfire sculpture for Artscape 2017, in keeping with the Summer Camp theme. He’s been involved with Artscape as a vendor and attendee for many years.

Artscape impacts hundreds of thousands of artists, musicians, restaurateurs, locals, and tourists, and brings millions of dollars of revenue to Baltimore City. Tracy Baskerville, an Artscape coordinator, praised this year’s official Artscape app, a digital guidebook to the festival. “It gives you access to all Artscape details including schedules, maps, performer and exhibitor bios, and you can customize your schedule and share your experience with friends.”

She also provides a detailed overview, sharing, “Artscape is America’s largest free arts festival, attracting more than 350,000 attendees over three days. Artscape features more than 140 fine artists, fashion designers and craftspeople; visual art exhibits on and off-site, including exhibitions, outdoor sculpture, art cars, photography, and the Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize; incredible live concerts on outdoor stages, a full schedule of performing arts including dance, opera, theater, film, experimental music and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, family events such as hands on projects, demonstrations, competitions, children’s entertainers and street theater, and a delicious, international menu of food and beverages that is available throughout the festival. Artscape’s total economic impact on Baltimore CIty is approximately $28.5 million.”

350,000 visitors made the trek through molasses conditions, despite thunderstorms on Saturday and Sunday. Baker spoke about the rain, saying many new vendors were disappointed in the lack of communication from Artscape coordinators regarding if programming would continue, be postponed for later in the day, or cancelled.

“The staff was unclear about concerts being cancelled due to rain; some people went home because the staff told them a show was cancelled, when it was only delayed,” divulged Pat Brynes, percussionist of Ebb and Nova.

Ebb and Nova is a local Baltimore indie band, and Brynes, a one-man symphony, combines drums, shakers, and tambourines to create a full, upbeat energy. Performing on Friday afternoon, they draw a crowd of approximately 50 people.

However, Brynes praised the coordinators’ eagerness to include new and underground local Baltimore musicians that might not have been appreciated otherwise, saying, “Artscape was a great opportunity for us to reach a lot of new listeners and grow our audience.”

Coordinators have also provided helpful resources for vendors and attendees, like ATMs. Virginia Peters, a local graphic designer and Artscape attendee, shared, “Most vendors accept credit cards but I would tell you to bring cash or use one of the ATMs around here. I saw a few people having trouble with the cell phone credit card payment system. With companies like Square you’re at the mercy of a cell phone data signal.”

Her favorite Artscape attraction was the fashion camp, located at Station North. She led the way over there. A smiling Stacey Chambers, Virginia’s friend, draped in vibrant fabrics, burst from her “fashion bus,” literally a painted and decorated bus filled with Chambers’ thrifted and repurposed clothing items and accessories for sale. “Thanks for saying hi! You’re lucky to have made it here on the first day; most of the best stuff will be gone by tonight!”

Peters later commented on the importance of customer service and friendliness vendors need to exhibit to succeed here. The same is true for food vendors; many Baltimoreans discover new restaurants via the food tents, but having a bad experience could keep them from visiting the brick and mortar restaurant in the future.

Overall, locals and tourists loved the art, music, and food available at Artscape, and that’s clear in social media coverage of the festival. However, most attendees still only relied on social media for updates, while festival coordinators had hoped that they downloaded and used the designated app, but it sounds like it was underutilized.

In 2018, coordinators’ priorities should include maintaining their commitment to supporting well-known pillars of the Baltimore art scene, like Steve Baker, as well as continuing to book diverse and rising stars from the local music community, like Pat Bryne’s band, Ebb and Nova.

Vendors like Baker and Stacey Chambers should continue to exhibit their best work, as well as their warm, professional demeanors, to continue to grow their practices and foster relationships in the neighborhood.

Attendees like Virginia Peters should continue to take advantage of the resources provided at Artscape, like ATMs, and branch out and utilize the new technology, like the Artscape app.

After the weeks of preparation for Artscape, Steve Baker gets back to business as usual in his Hampden studio and store, and excitedly waits for what Artscape 2018 has in store.