Explore Washington D.C.

Get a Sneak Peek at Artscape, Baltimore’s Biggest Arts Festival

Baltimore sculptor Nariko Marvit-Suyemoto whipped up a series of way-larger-than-life pieces of “trash” for the 2018 Artscape Festival July 20-22. Using paper-mache, paint and wood framing, she formed jumbo models of a bag of Utz potato chips and a crumpled can of local Natty Boh beer. “I’m hoping that the apple core, which will be about 7 feet tall, provides some shade for festival-goers,” says the recent Maryland Institute College of Art grad.

Marvit-Suyemoto’s installation is among dozens of exhibits and performances by visual and performing artists, fashion designers and craftspeople during the 37th annual street party. Artscape ranks as the country’s largest free arts festival, taking over multiple blocks in Bolton Hill and Station North and closing down major thoroughfares including Mount Royal Avenue, Cathedral Street and Charles Street for one rollicking, colorful weekend.  

An art car (2013)
An art car (2013) (©Forsaken Fotos/Flickr, Creative Commons)

“It’s just such an experience, because the whole city seems to get excited and involved,” says local meeting planner and arts enthusiast Nelle Somerville. “There are millions of activities for kids, and nighttime concerts and things like inflatable igloos and faux campfires. You run into everyone you know!”

For newbies, it helps to make an advance plan, noting when bands like Toots and the Maytals (July 21 at 7:30 pm) or performance groups like Garth Fagan Dance (July 21 and 22) will appear on the 16 indoor and outdoor stages. Food trucks, water stations and beer stations keep fete-goers fueled, too. “It’s always the hottest weekend of the year, so plan accordingly,” says Somerville with a laugh.  “But it’s nice to walk around the streets with a beer in your hand.”

You can download a festival map, and there’s also a smart-phone app that’ll help you navigate. “Try to combine indoor and outdoor activities,” says Kathy Horning, festival director at the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. “It’s also nice to challenge yourself to do something you haven’t done before, like listen to opera or try a hands-on craft. Since it’s all free, it’s a great way to expose yourself to new art forms.”

Garth Fagan Dance’s Wecco Duende Group
Garth Fagan Dance’s Wecco Duende Group (©Erich Camping)

This year, innovative offerings include the blues-meets-hip-hop music of songstress ZZ Ward July 22 and DIY printmaking and graffiti arts workshops. “For the latter, you’ll be able to learn to tag in the city’s legendary Graffiti Alley, which is the only legal place to do it in the city,” says Horning.  

There will also be drain snake racing in which participants maneuver faux serpents through a series of pipes at the Station North Tool Library and an origami and string installation that will be added all weekend at Pearlstone Park. Throughout the festival, String Theory Theater’s oversized puppets will wander among the crowds interacting with each other and attendees.

And in one of the wildest rides, Pittsburgh’s Squonk Opera brings its “Pneumatica” show to a parking lot on Charles Street. While playing groovy electronic, the group unleashes inflatable beings like friendly, monsters with tentacles and a two-story-high, fog-blowing goddess.

“Let’s Build a Campfire” (2017)
“Let’s Build a Campfire” (2017) (Courtesy Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts)

Local and national artists and craftspeople also sell their wares out of a parking garage-turned-jumbo gallery at 1714 North Charles Street. “It’s a really great way to get to know local makers and support local businesses,” says Marvit-Suyemoto. “The vendors always have such cool stuff.” Look for everything from moody photographs of Baltimore architecture to hand-tooled leather jewelry. 

Getting around Artscape is also easy this year, thanks to a fleet of pedicabs. “We’re not sure what they’ll look like yet, but there’ll be an art connection,” says Horning.  We’d expect nothing less.