Fresh after the rains from Tropical Storm Ophelia, a steady stream of Artscape attendees trekked up and down Charles Street, but it didn’t seem like a flood of people as in years prior, said those there Sunday.
The storm caused organizers to cancel Saturday’s events and put a damper on vendor profits. Some art enthusiasts were happy to be there all the same but questioned whether a new fall date for the festival was a good idea.
Phillip Snead, one of the artists selling pieces near Penn Station, said it was a slow day because of the rain and the Ravens football game.
“It’s put a damper on everything happening this weekend,” he said. “Artscape can usually be jam-packed with people.”
Artscape, the country’s largest free arts festival, made its return this weekend after a three-year hiatus. The annual July event was pushed to September, a change made because data showed visitors were discouraged from attending because of the summer heat, organizers said.
The change in dates was a talker around town, with lots of opinions about whether it was the right decision. Those attending the festival had their viewpoints.
Business was better for Snead and other vendors during the summer, he said. He saw vendors shut down on Friday who didn’t return because of the anticipated rain.
“Just imagine if it was hot, if it was 90 degrees, we’d have about 150,000 [people],” he said.
He was still happy to be there selling his art that includes abstract and 3D. He’s participated about seven times since 2004. If it rained in the past, it didn’t matter because it cooled everyone off. But he thinks people haven’t adjusted to the colder weather yet and decided to stay indoors, including some vendors. Official attendance numbers were not available Sunday.
Attendee Johnnie A. Johnson of Charles Village was holding her folded-up umbrella standing near a row of vendors on Charles Street. She appreciated Sunday’s weather and found it preferable to the “sweltering” heat the event usually has. Although Sunday’s event didn’t look like it did in the years before, she was impressed with how it turned out.
“I think what they were able to put together has been really amazing thus far, and I’ve been enjoying myself,” Johnson said.
At a press conference early Friday evening, Mayor Brandon Scott called Saturday’s cancellation “unfortunate” but said the top priority was people’s safety.
The storm is the latest of many recent setbacks, delays and changes that have beset the long-standing Baltimore tradition. The first was COVID, and it was followed by a dispute over the vision of the festival by city officials and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which puts on the event.
Sunday, people walked up and down Charles Street in raincoats and ponchos, often holding umbrellas or wearing rain boots. At Baltimore Queerscape — a collection of art created by Baltimore-based queer artists, vendors showcased paintings, photographs and accessories that included jewelry hats and hairpieces. A DJ blared music in the back, and drinks were served at the bar.
Finishing an Earl Grey sangria was Samuel Pina. He said he loved what he was seeing at his first Artscape. One of the pieces he saw inside was a watercolor by Douglas Johnson. The Madison Park resident said he has lived in Baltimore on and off for the past nine years and never made it out for Artscape. Once his cousin reminded him it was happening, he made sure to attend “rain or shine.”
Accompanying him was his boyfriend, Derek Johnson. He liked hearing the band, Ray Wonder, perform and was looking forward to hearing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Unlike Pina, Johnson has attended Artscape multiple times. As a “hot-weather person” the July date was what he preferred. But this was Artscape’s debut since the pandemic, so he didn’t let the cold and rainy conditions deter him.
The change initially caused a kerfuffle, because 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.
One vendor Michael Cohn, owner of No Land Beyond, a board game bar on Maryland Avenue, was participating in Artscape for the first time and said it wasn’t going as expected because of the rain.
“We lost yesterday, which would’ve been really beneficial for us for sure, and today’s been obviously pretty slow,” he said Sunday afternoon.
He wants to move the company to Station North in the next few years, and the money made during Artscape was going to help. Around 1 p.m., he said he lost hope of meeting his fundraising goal.
He was set up on the corner of West North Avenue and Charles Street. Hardly anyone was sitting at the table and chairs at his booth that dripped with water. The volleyball net was vacant, and the buckets of water organized in triangles for a game resembling beer pong looked untouched.
Snead said some vendors were bummed about the rain and decided not to show on Sunday.
“I knew some people who came from Chicago, and they had to sit in their hotels all day yesterday,” he said.
Sharese Essien was attending with fellow members of Greater Baltimore Church who were getting ready for a pop-up Gospel music performance at Mount Royal Avenue and Charles Street. Despite the weather and attendance, she was excited about Artscape’s return and that she could be part of it.
“I felt bad for so many artists because I know Artscape is such an investment with so many artists,” Essien said. “So glad to see they were at least able to do a full day today.”
Adam Willis, Hugo Kugiya and Brandon Wiegel contributed to this story.