Organizers of Baltimore’s Artscape announced Friday that they are calling off all Saturday events related to the festival, citing impending storms and gusty winds from Tropical Storm Ophelia.
“The safety and well-being of our staff, volunteers, attendees, vendors, and the City’s support teams are of paramount importance. 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,” organizers said in a statement from the mayor’s office and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA), the independent agency contracted to produce Artscape and other events.
Although organizers had planned to still hold Artscape in the event of rain, the worsening forecast posed a risk to public safety and prompted the cancellation of Saturday’s activities.
“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, September 23, 2023,” they said. “While Artscape is a rain or shine event, Tropical Storm Ophelia is expected to bring strong winds that pose potential risks for outdoor activities.”
BOPA said they are “diligently monitoring the storm’s progress and will make a decision regarding Sunday’s activities at the earliest opportunity.”
They encouraged community members to enjoy Friday’s events, which are scheduled to continue as planned.
The festival, which hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and controversies stemming from BOPA’s management, faces yet another disruption.
Before she resigned as head of the arts agency in January, former BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer moved Artscape from its usual time in mid-July to new dates in September because she did not want staff working in the heat of summer.
The dates of the 2023 festival were initially slated to overlap with Rosh Hashanah, but were later changed to this weekend, Sept. 22-24, after members of Baltimore’s Jewish community spoke out against the original announcement.
The new dates also drew the ire of the organizers of Hampdenfest and Remfest, who said Artscape now conflicts with their events which have traditionally been held in September. The organizers of both community festivals cancelled their events this year, while the Remington event is promised to return next spring.
In June, Mayor Brandon Scott, City Council President Nick Mosby, and Ways and Means Committee chair Eric Costello issued a joint statement in which they raised the possibility of severing ties with BOPA, expressing that the city “should assess alternative options” to the agency.
Days later, the Baltimore City Council voted to temporarily withhold more than $1.7 million from BOPA’s fiscal 2024 budget, after a budget hearing in which city lawmakers expressed concerns about the agency’s spending.
The council restored $581,334 of the funds in September, saying they would restore more if BOPA makes progress on addressing their concerns.
BOPA’s interim CEO Todd Yuhanick said his agency and other stakeholders are open to returning Artscape to July in 2024, if that is what the community wants.
“It’s all open,” he said in August. “Whatever is good for the city.”