Residents might not know it by the lack of street closings in Bolton Hill, but this is Artscape weekend, the time of year when 300,000 people usually descend on midtown Baltimore to take part in the event billed as “the largest free arts festival in America.”

This year there will be no in-person Artscape festival, because the city and state are limiting crowd sizes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), which produces the annual festival, is still celebrating with three initiatives, starting with a virtual festival this weekend.

“While the BOPA team may not be setting up the festival this week, we are all working together to bring you a different Artscape experience this year,” said CEO Donna Drew Sawyer, in a message to the local arts community. “There are so many elements of Artscape that we can enjoy even without the traditional festival.”

The 39th annual Artscape had been scheduled to run from July 17 to 19, but it was canceled in May along with the Inner Harbor fireworks on the Fourth of July and all other large summer gatherings in Baltimore. It was the first time in its history that Artscape was cancelled.

During the virtual event, called #ArtscapeAtHome, BOPA is using social media to recall “what Artscape means to the arts community and the cultural fabric of the greater Baltimore region,” with photos, contests and giveaways.

BOPA is asking fans of the event to tag #ArtscapeAtHome and share their memories and pictures of past festivals on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. #ArtscapeAtHome is now live and will continue through Sunday, July 19.

The second initiative is the annual Artscape Artists’ Market, which will be held virtually this year from Friday, Aug. 21 to Sunday, Aug. 30.

BOPA has set July 24 as the deadline for applications from artists, makers and craftspeople who would like to be part of the virtual market, which is intended to provide exposure for artists who would ordinarily show their work at Artscape.

“We have reimagined our Artists’ Market as an online directory where artists can showcase, promote and sell their work,” Sawyer said. “This platform will feature artists across the visual, performing, literary and culinary arts and will also include virtual artist talks …with Maryland-based artists.”

Finally, BOPA will reveal the winner of the Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize on Saturday July 25 at 7 p.m. on BOPA’s YouTube page. Six finalists are vying for a $25,000 fellowship, and the finalists will each receive $2,500. An in-person exhibit of the winner’s work, originally planned for the Walters Art Museum, won’t be held, but BOPA has a virtual exhibit of all the finalists’ work online.

The weather forecast for midtown Baltimore this weekend calls for typical Artscape weather: low temperatures in the mid-70s and high temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s all three days.

BOPA officials say they hope to get back to an in-person event for the 40th annual Artscape next year, and that it most likely will be in mid-July.

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.