Artscape might be a rain-or-shine festival, but event officials decided the strong winds forecast for the weekend is not a risk they can absorb, canceling all events scheduled for Saturday because of Tropical Storm Ophelia.

“After careful consideration and based on direction from the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management and the Baltimore City Fire Department, we have made the difficult yet necessary decision to cancel Artscape for Saturday,” the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

“The safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, attendees, vendors, and the City’s support teams are of paramount importance,” the BOPA statement said. “While we are enthusiastic for the return of Artscape and recognize that countless hours of dedication have gone into preparing for this weekend, we must prioritize safety above all else.”

Ben Stone take a photo of his daughterMargalit Stone, 2, in a light fixture outside of the Blinkatorium by Baltimore artist Scott Pennington at Artscape in Baltimore, MD on September 22, 2023. (Craig Hudson / The Baltimore Banner)
Ben Stone takes a photo of his daughter Margalit Stone, 2, in a light fixture at Artscape in Baltimore, Maryland, on Sept. 22, 2023. (Craig Hudson/The Baltimore Banner)

Angelo Moore of Fishbone with his band Dr. Madd Vibe, and Nile Rodgers and CHIC were scheduled to perform Saturday.

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BOPA has not yet made a decision on Sunday’s events, saying “we are diligently monitoring the storm’s progress and will make a decision regarding Sunday’s activities at the earliest opportunity.”

Friday’s events went on as planned. Artscape is billed as one of the country’s largest free arts festivals. Programs includes musical performances, visual arts, film, fashion, literature and comedy, all staged in the Mount Royal, Bolton Hill and Station North neighborhoods. Winds were already strong Friday evening as the day’s events began.

Dany Green, an abstract mosaic artist who traveled from New York City to set up her stall, said she was especially disappointed because this was to be her first Artscape. Green said she will likely pack up after tonight because she’s worried the storm will damage her artwork if she leaves the stall in place.

”It does feel like everything that could go wrong kind of went wrong,” Green said.

Nina, a Baltimore-based jewelry maker, was understanding of Saturday’s cancellation but couldn’t shake the feeling that things just won’t go right for Artscape.

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“I’m not surprised because it seems like a cloud is over Artscape,” she said, declining to use her last name so as not to endanger her chances of working with Artscape in the future. “I really want Artscape to get back up to what it was — a crown jewel of the city.”

The storm is the latest of many recent setbacks, delays and changes that have beset the longstanding Baltimore tradition. The first was COVID, which shelved the event (first held in 1982) for three years. The last Artscape was held the summer of 2019. It was expected back in 2022, when pandemic measures were all but gone, but was postponed one more year. This, after Mayor Brandon Scott publicly assured the city of Artscape’s return in 2022. The 2023 event was the first held in September instead of July, a change made because data showed visitors were discouraged from attending because of the summer heat.

The change initially caused a kerfuffle, as the original dates of Sept. 13-17 conflicted with the Rosh Hashanah holiday. Moving the event to Sept. 22-24 resulted in another conflict: Hampdenfest and Remfest, normally held in late September, were forced to cancel. (Hampdenfest organizers attempted to hold the event the same weekend as Artscape, but its permit was denied.)

The missteps seemed to cost the former head of BOPA, Donna Drew Sawyer, her job. She stepped down in early 2023 after Scott demanded her resignation. Todd Yuhanick took over BOPA in June, with skepticism and ridicule dogging the organization’s signature event. The 2023 Artscape was BOPA’s chance for redemption, and it did not get off to a stellar start.

Stephan McClellan of One Life Wonder performs for a crowd at Artscape in Baltimore on Sept. 22, 2023. (Craig Hudson/The Baltimore Banner)

DJ Pee .Wee (Anderson .Paak’s alter ego) was the third artist scheduled to headline Artscape. He replaced Kelly Rowland, who replaced Ja Rule — the event’s original headline act. Ja Rule dropped out over contract negotiations; Rowland dropped out because of a disagreement over her band.

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It is not clear what will happen to Saturday’s headline performances, or what will happen if Sunday’s events are also canceled by weather. Artscape traded blistering heat for blustery winds.

At a press conference early Friday evening, Scott lamented the “unfortunate” impact of the storm for Artscape and said he understands the disappointment it will cause for patrons and artists.

”Of course I’m not happy, but the reality is my number one responsibility is people’s safety,” he said. “We’re going to have Artscape tonight. We’re going to have Artscape on Sunday. But we are not going to have folks be in danger just for a festival.”

Ophelia is expected to move inland and northward across North Carolina, Virginia, and eventually Maryland, where it should weaken and become a remnant area of low pressure.

The National Weather Service issued a Tropical Storm Warning for Worcester, Somerset, Wicomico, Dorchester, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties in Southern Maryland from Friday morning until further notice.

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Jay Moore, a Howard County-based landscape photographer, found a silver lining in Friday’s announcement, which came early enough to give those planning on attending Saturday to switch plans and attend Friday night instead.

Hopefully the weather clears up by Sunday, he said. “If not, we’ll be watching the Ravens game.”

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