It’s called an art festival, but it’s really a big party. Artscape is Baltimore’s big summer weekend of arty displays and free performances. It’s worth the trip for me to ride the MARC train, especially since it drops you off at Penn station, smack in the middle of the event. If you can ignore the standard-issue carnival food vendors and tents from corporate sponsors, there’s a lot to discover.
Stepping out from the train station, you’re in the middle of a mini carnival. A Ferris wheel is neighbors with a group of carnival games.
The best part is up Charles St, in the Station North Arts District. That’s where they have ping pong tables in an abandoned lot and on the street.
A stage at the end of the street was home to Bobby E. Lee & the Sympathizers. It was the middle of the day, but their “folk stomp” music was getting everyone dancing in the street, including at least one person in a wheelchair.
Mr Boh is to baltimore what Mickey Mouse is to Disneyland. This was the first time I’d seen an “official” Mr Boh wandering the street. The costumed character was officially sponsored by Pabst, the brewer behind local fave National Bohemian beer. Not to be confused with this version created by the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (BROS), who sadly were not participating in this year’s Artscape.
Several streets were lined with picnic tables.
The “Supergame!” carnival games were created by two local artists, one of whom, Scott Pennington, is seen in the background in the photo above.
At its best, Artscape invites passers-by to interact with the exhibits, such as “Pizza Party Twister,” a game of Twister set on a gigantic pizza. “Right hand on olive!” was one of the instructions I heard.
In one intersection was a game called HopXcotch Rivalry. Its two “extreme hopscotch courses” inspired “playful pedestrian action.” Certainly much more interesting than having cars drive through!
Another benefit of closing the streets for the weekend was being able to transform a parking garage into an art gallery. Take that, Park(ing) Day.
Tucked into a empty theatre was Gamescape, where I got to revisit old arcade classics like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but without having to deposit any quarters. Those two games still manage to get my blood pumping as I try to master the awkward controls and delay the inevitable crushing defeat. Oh, and the Tron game is still just as lame as ever. Gamescape also hosted many custom-made games. I discovered the elegant and addictive UDLR:Swipe game, which you really ought to try, and see if you can best my high-score of 75. Later in the day, they hosted bands that would riff to match the action of players’ video-game action.
Every time I visited the Aerial Arts Arena it seemed I just missed a performance. Late at night, I finally got to see DNA Theatre put on an aerial show, but had to leave early in order to catch the last MARC train back to DC, at 9:15 (which was late, not leaving till 9:30). I really wish MARC could run a train later at night.
I took one last photo of the Ferris wheel before returning to the train station. Its color-changing LED lights made for a good show, though I miss the simplicity of the colored fluorescent tubes.
Charm City is filled with so many creative artists. Artscape is the best chance to see what they can do.