I’ve arrived at the largest free arts fair in America. It’s Artscape 2014, a sprawling festival that stretches across downtown Baltimore. It’s my first visit, and I’ve really only come to get out of the house for a few hours. I imagine it will be a bunch of modern art that isn’t really my taste or beginners’ stuff that perhaps should not be for sale.
But I’ve forgotten I’m in Baltimore, home of John Waters and the wonderfully weird. As I walk down the street, the bustling crowd parts, and two bicycles emerge. I’ve stumbled into the “art car” parade, and the decorate bikes are the parade’s apparent grand marshals.
The car designs range from what I think is a horseshoe crab (but I find out later is a roach) to a futuristic paint job with beeping sci-fi noises. One is painted as an underwater seascape and has a man in a flower bra and Bermuda shorts riding on top. The driver of the ocean car hands a plastic lei to the little girl next to me. There is one car completely covered in pennies, and another completely covered in bottle caps. I wonder how they’ll get the designs off or if they’ll even try.
The people in the cars are laughing and smiling, everyone on the street happy and taking pictures. Children are playing free games on the I-83 overpass, and there’s a Ferris wheel chugging along next to the train station. Live music floats through the air. I’m suddenly very happy I’ve come.
Several streets are dedicated to the art vendors. There are so many fantastic handmade things to see. I can’t possibly buy everything I like, so I take cards for my favorite ones: a black dress screen-printed with a detailed image of a harpooner descending on a giant steampunk octopus from Spaghetti Kiss; earrings made from photographs at camera.SHY.photography; intricate sculptures made from book pages from Daniel Lai; ornaments, jewelry, and sculptures made from recycled industrial materials from Yan’s Art Studio (sadly, no website); screen-printed shirts, skirts, and scarves from Red Prairie Press; wine stoppers, flasks, pendants, and more made from maps at Juanita’s Adventures.
I buy a mug with a monkey face and a necklace with a bird design from artists at Baltimore Clayworks. I get to talking to the clayworks folks and learn they offer a multitude of public classes at their Mt. Washington location: basic wheel sampler, Jamaican coil building, stamp making, and more. They’re really enthusiastic, chatting away and sharing flyers on their upcoming events. I’m sold; I definitely want to try my hand at pottery this coming fall. Who’s with me?
I enter a raffle to win a free session for two at Wine & Canvas, where you learn how to paint while enjoying tasty adult beverages. This is something else I need to try (free or not!) in the coming months. On my way back to the car I see a cart for So Delicious and make a frantic beeline to them. They’re offering complimentary dairy-free ice cream and coupons. Why yes, thank you! I’d be happy to take a yummy treat off your hands. Please add it to my bag of goodies!
Baltimore oddities, great art, and free vegan ice cream. It’s so much fun, and I didn’t even see 1/3 of the festival.
Artscape runs through Sunday, July 20. If you can make it, I definitely recommend a visit. It’s a great place to go spend a few hours and not necessarily shell out any cash (though, let’s face it, you probably won’t go home empty handed). A word to the wise: bring your own water and snacks to save yourself on the crazy concession fees, and take public transportation as nearby lots are $15+. I hope you go!
Did you attend Artscape? What was your favorite part?