Get Your Art on in Baltimore
If you’ve never been to Baltimore, your impression of the city has probably been formed by the television shows Homicide and The Wire,
two gritty series about drugs, murder and corruption. After living downtown for 16 years, I can tell you that everything you see is accurate–broken families, failing schools, political corruption, gang violence, teen pregnancy, STDs and substance abuse. We’re known to many as the City that Breeds, the City that Bleeds and a few other titles that are nothing to be proud of.
But there’s a lot more to Baltimore than you see on TV. There’s also the Baltimore of John Waters, creator of the hit Hairspray and several other quirky films that accurately portray the many loveable, offbeat characters with big hair and strange accents who have earned us the name Charm City.
Art Lives Here
If you scratch off the grimy reputation, you’ll discover that Baltimore is a cultural gem. The city is filled with so many museums and other sites that feature world-class art, music, literature, history and theatre that you’ll never have time to see it all if you visit. In fact, after all these years, I still haven’t.
This weekend, Baltimore showed off its finer side by putting on Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the US. For three days every year, visitors from across town and across the country try to take in as much of Artscape as they can cover. The festival features every form of art you could think of and then some. The most popular attractions are the hundreds of booths filled with unique treasures created by local artists and at least five stages that offer music of every genre. This year’s national acts included Brian McKnight, Clutch and Rebirth Brass Band. Artscape also offers visitors the opportunity to find out about what’s new at local museums, pick up giveaways from national sponsors, enjoy street performers and take in short features by local filmmakers.
Welcome to Wonderland
Artscape’s borders have expanded to include Charles Street, which was converted into a fantasy land. In strolling the few blocks, I felt like I was living Alice’s adventures in Wonderland. I passed three stages, one of which was made of pallets; a knitted port-a-potty; a houseboat topped by a guy wrapped in a snake and a band; a rock opera performed by a cast of medieval punks; a turkey breast children’s ride; an enormous crash-test dummy; a large drawing of John Waters’ head, an art car exhibit and a fashion show. My favorite was a human exhibit that I think was supposed to be an artful interpretation of some down and out folks.
The most impressive part of the festival was that it brings together people of just about every race and economic class, and everybody gets along. Funny thing about art. It always seems to melt away the differences among people, yet it’s the first thing that gets cut when budgets are tight. Perhaps if we started replacing guns with guitars, our streets wouldn’t be littered with bullets and drug paraphernalia.
Dance more, sing more, make art more, Baltimore.
Check out more of my photos from Artscape.
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