To those looking for a sign that Baltimore’s Artscape festival is really coming back after a three-year hiatus, here it is:

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA), the agency that produces the festival, has put out a call on its website for food and beverage vendors and “community engagement exhibitors” to take part in the event, now a little more than five months away. A call for applications from people who want to be part of the festival’s popular Artists Market is expected to go out shortly.

BOPA has also scheduled two meetings to spread the word about the festival’s return and generate interest from prospective participants.

An in-person information session for food vendors has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 26, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at BOPA’s offices, 7 St. Paul St.

A Zoom session for prospective exhibitors has been set for May 4 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Those interested can register here.

The footprint for this year’s festival includes parts of Midtown Baltimore and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Although there had been talk of expanding Artscape from three days to five days in 2023, the official website indicates that this year’s festival will be a three-day event and that it will be held in September as previously announced. The dates are September 22 to 24, 2023. Headliners have not been named.

“The Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts is excited to bring back Artscape for its 38th year after a three-year hiatus!” the website states. “Everyone’s invited to Artscape, let’s celebrate the arts in Baltimore together!”

Last held in 2019

Started in 1982 and billed as “America’s largest free outdoor arts festival,” Artscape was last held in July 2019 and featured more than 200 artist performers and more than 100 visual artists and artisans, according to BOPA. In the past, it has typically drawn 350,000 people over three days.

The full-blown festival did not occur in 2020 and 2021 due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. BOPA mounted a virtual version in 2020, including an artists’ market and online events and tributes to previous festivals, but there was no in-person gathering.

BOPA made no attempt in 2021 to have a virtual event. In 2022, as other cities were bringing back large public gatherings, the organizers in Baltimore said they were working to bring Artscape back but needed more time to “reimagine” it for a post-COVID era and wouldn’t be ready that year. They promised that it would return in 2023 but said it would shift to September, when temperatures would likely be cooler than in July.

The 2023 version will take place without former BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer, a divisive figure who resigned in January after Mayor Brandon Scott said he lost confidence in her leadership of the agency and called for her resignation.

Last April, Scott said he wanted all of Baltimore’s festivals to return in 2022 “to get us back to some normalcy in the city” after the lockdowns and other disruptions of the pandemic.

Sawyer defied him the next day when BOPA announced that it wouldn’t be bringing back Artscape in 2022 because it needed more time to plan. She also didn’t plan to bring back the Baltimore Book Festival and Light City Festival until 2024 or later.

The last straw came when Sawyer said she wouldn’t put on a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade in January 2023, a decision that was blasted by U. S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, former Mayor Sheila Dixon and others. Scott responded by demanding her resignation by King’s birthday, Jan. 15; her departure was announced on Jan. 10.   

BOPA has not named a replacement for Sawyer or an interim CEO. It is currently led by Brian Lyles, the Director of Development for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company and chair of BOPA’s board. Lyles said he is working for BOPA without pay and that a search for her replacement has begun. 

Last month, in BOPA’s first quarterly board meeting since Sawyer resigned, Lyles told members that “we have gone through one of the most difficult periods of BOPA’s history, but…we are beyond that.”

He said the first two steps he took following Sawyer’s resignation were to “make sure that the staff and the operations were intact” and “making sure that we have strengthened our relationship with the Mayor’s Office,” relations that had frayed as Scott lost confidence with Sawyer.

To that end, “we have been working with the Mayor’s Office very closely,” Lyles told his board.  “It’s only been 11 weeks…but during that time period we have made good progress with the Mayor’s Office.”

One sign of the strengthened working relationship with the Mayor’s Office was that Tonya Miller Hall, the mayor’s new Senior Advisor for Arts and Cultural Affairs, was present at BOPA’s board meeting. At previous BOPA board meetings, the Mayor’s Office was not always represented. 

Before joining the Mayor’s Office in January, Miller Hall had been one of Sawyer’s lieutenants at BOPA and had been taking the lead on BOPA’s efforts to plan Artscape 2023.

From last October to January, Miller Hall met with a number of civic groups and organizations such as the Public Art Commission to share her ideas for extending BOPA’s footprint from Midtown into the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, and for using Artscape as a means to make physical improvements that would last long after the festival was over. Although she’s no longer with BOPA, Miller Hall said she is still very much working to make Artscape a success, now in her role with the Mayor’s Office. 

Briefing sessions

BOPA’s scheduled briefing sessions are similar to ones that its representatives held in the past to provide information about upcoming Artscape festivals. They usually took place about six months before the event, in locations such as Motor House on West North Avenue, and were a sign that it was coming.

This year’s food vendor categories include grilling vendors; cooking vendors; non-cooking vendors; packaged/novelty food vendors; and food trucks.

The “early bird” deadline for applications from food vendors is May 26. The standard deadline is Aug. 25.  “Early bird” notifications will be on June 30, with signed contracts due on July 7. Standard notifications will be on Sept. 8, with signed contracts due on Sept. 15.

More information about the food and beverage vendor applications is available here.

Artscape’s Community Engagement Exhibitor program was created for local arts and cultural organizations seeking tented exhibit space within the festival footprint.

Non-profits focused on visual arts, performing arts, literary arts and culinary arts are encouraged to apply. All crafts, demonstrations and workshops must be free and open to the public the entire Artscape weekend, and all activities must be staffed during all festival hours.

The deadline for applications is June 30 at 11:59 p.m. Applying does not grant acceptance. Exhibitor guidelines will be sent to accepted applicants before the festival. More information is available here.

Rain or shine

According to BOPA, Artscape will take place rain or shine. Festival hours on Friday, Sept. 22 are from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for “festival operations” and from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. for “Artscape Afterhours.”

On Saturday, Sept. 23, festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for “main stage hours,” from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for “festival operations,” and from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. for “Artscape Afterhours.” On Sunday, Sept. 24, hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for ‘festival operations.” The Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur starts at sunset on Sept. 24 and ends the evening of Sept. 25.

More information is available at

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

One reply on “Call goes out for Artscape 2023 vendors and exhibitors; festival is now back to three-day event”

  1. Ed,
    It looks like Artscape again will be more about food trucks than Art. What ever her failings the fired BOPA lady had a vision that re-focused on the arts. And to be clear, it was the mayor’s office fuckup that led to his embarrassment and her firing. Just another small episode in the incompetence fanning the slow death of Baltimore.

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