Artscape headliner Kelly Rowland has canceled her appearance in Baltimore a little more than three weeks from the start of the festival.
The festival is adding a performance by DJ Pee .Wee, the alter-ego of Grammy Award-winning artist Anderson .Paak, according to Amy Burke Friedman, who is representing Artscape with ProfilesPR. Friedman said the festival could have additional lineup announcements.
The former Destiny’s Child singer, scheduled to perform Sept. 22 at one of the festival’s outdoor stages, had been announced as the headliner earlier in August. A source with direct knowledge of the situation who is unable to discuss the matter publicly said Rowland’s team and Artscape organizers had a dispute about what kind of backing band could accompany the singer, which led to her withdrawal.
Rowland is represented by the booking agency United Talent Agency, which did not answer a request for comment, nor did her manager Jennifer McDaniel of SB Projects. Mayor Brandon Scott’s spokesman and festival organizers did not return a request for comment about Rowland’s withdrawal.
Billed as the nation’s largest free outdoor arts festival and a marquee annual city event, Artscape has not been held since 2019. BOPA, the city’s arts council, canceled the festivities during 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic and did not stage Artscape in 2022. This year, BOPA and a senior aide to Mayor Brandon Scott, Tonya Miller Hall, will jointly put on the event.
In a midday interview Thursday, a Banner reporter asked Miller Hall and BOPA interim CEO Todd Yuhanick about the singer’s contract and whether she was dropping out. Miller Hall said she had not officially gotten word from Rowland’s team that the performance was canceled.
“We know that artists make different decisions, do different changes, and so we may have an update on different artists,” Miller Hall said.
City officials announced Rowland’s performance after hinting in a 30-second video teaser featuring actor and singer André De Shields that a major artist would take the stage. Less than two weeks later, BOPA staffers and aides to the mayor said at a City Council hearing that preparations for the festival were going smoothly.
The stakes are high for a successful Artscape weekend. Already, the road to September has been rocky, with BOPA attempting to book rapper Ja Rule as the headliner before declining to meet his contract stipulations. BOPA also has faced criticism for scheduling the event during the same weekend as Yom Kippur, a widely observed Jewish holiday that begins Sept. 24 at sundown.
Rowland is not currently on tour and last performed in early June.
BOPA, a roughly 40-year-old institution which has a contract with the city to stage Artscape and other events, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, Light City, the Baltimore Book Festival and Baltimore’s New Year’s Eve Spectacular, has been thrust into the spotlight multiple times this year as it faces questions about its performance.
The head of the organization stepped down in January after Scott personally called on her to resign following the organization’s cancellation of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade. The mayor’s office — which knew the parade would not happen as early as November — wound up staging its own parade planned with just a few days to spare.
In May, representatives of the city’s law department revealed during a budget hearing that they blocked an attempt by BOPA to trademark Artscape, which its city contract explicitly prohibits and which BOPA pursued with outside legal counsel.
After BOPA’s June budget hearing, Scott, City Council President Nick J. Mosby and City Councilman Eric T. Costello, said they would seek alternative contractors for Artscape this year. During that meeting, BOPA board Chair Bryan D. Lyles confirmed that the board granted former BOPA director Donna Drew Sawyer a severance payment that City Council members weren’t aware of.
Miller Hall is a former BOPA executive who was poached by the mayor’s office this year.
In addition to serving as the city’s arts council, BOPA functions as its film office and events center. The group is funded by the city but run by a private board. It has nonprofit status.
On Wednesday, the city’s spending board is expected to consider a nearly $600,000 appropriation to BOPA that the city withheld from its budget due to concerns about the organization’s governance, leadership and capacity. The mayor’s administration and City Council have since determined “marked progress” has been made in these areas in the time since the budget hearing, according to next week’s Board of Estimates agenda.
Baltimore Banner reporter Adam Willis and freelance reporter Wesley Case contributed to this article.