Stilt walkers move through the street as attendees of Artscape 2019 visit vendor tents. Photo credit: Artscape/Instagram.

Baltimore is going to have to wait a little longer to experience the “bigger and better” Artscape festival that Mayor Brandon Scott promised on Sunday.

The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts contradicted the mayor when it put out a media advisory Monday afternoon, saying Artscape will not return in 2022 even though Scott said it would.

BOPA’s advisory said Artscape will return in 2023 and what Baltimoreans will see this year is a “preview” of the 2023 version, not the event itself. The advisory was titled: “BALTIMORE OFFICE OF PROMOTION & THE ARTS IS PLANNING THE RETURN OF ARTSCAPE.”

Monday’s message from BOPA was a contradiction of the one it posted last week with the subject line “Artscape 2022,” and the headline “Artscape is Shifting to September.” The earlier message gave the impression that Artscape was coming back in 2022 after a two-year, COVID-related hiatus, and that it was moving from July to September.

“We’re taking more time to collaborate on a bold new vision for America’s largest free festival,” said the first message, which was posted on BOPA’s website and shared widely on social media. “It’s a big effort, and we want to do it right, so we’re taking more time.”

That was followed by a statement from Scott on Sunday, saying he wants Artscape to return in 2022.

“We want all of our festivals to come back this year,” he said during an appearance at the American Visionary Art Museum. “Not just Artscape, but we’re going to have Afram. We want to bring all of those things back, to get us back to some normalcy in the city…. We’re bringing them back. We want to be bigger and better.”

On Monday afternoon, BOPA took down the first online message about Artscape 2022 and substituted a message that no longer promised Artscape would be back this year.

Instead, the substitute message said, the full Artscape festival will return in 2023, and what Baltimoreans will get this year is “a preview of the Artscape to come in 2023.” The same wording essentially was used in the media advisory that went out on Monday afternoon.

“Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts (BOPA) is planning the return of Artscape,” the advisory said. “COVID-19 made it necessary for us to take a hiatus, and BOPA is eager to bring Artscape back better than ever. The hiatus gave us time to re-envision Artscape while respecting and accommodating how the pandemic has changed us all, especially how we engage during large public events. We envision a bold, ambitious festival with a singular focus on the Arts. An Artscape that is more accessible to everyone, and one that brings a lasting impact to communities in our city. We are working with those communities, partners and stakeholders to ensure their voices are heard and included.

“The origin of Artscape was to have a positive economic impact on the artists and makers throughout the city,” the message continued. “Baltimore is overflowing with creative talent, and we set out to reimagine Artscape in the tradition of the world’s great art festivals. A new Artscape promises to draw art enthusiasts from around the country and the world, elevating Baltimore to a world-class center of artistic excellence.

However, visionary plans take time to realize. So, this fall, BOPA will present a preview of the Artscape to come in 2023. We are looking forward to sharing the plans we are putting in place and cannot wait to unveil them to the City of Baltimore in September. Please, keep your eyes on for details on the September preview and the return of the full Artscape festival in 2023.”

BOPA’s message, which was not attributed to any one individual, did not say exactly when or where the 2022 preview would take place, how long it would last, or whether the 2023 version will be in July or September. WBFF/Fox 45 News added in its coverage that BOPA “will not hold the Baltimore Book Festival or the Light City festival in 2022 either.”

Donna Drew Sawyer, who was named the Chief Executive Officer of BOPA in 2017, speaks at a Pigtown pig sculpture event in October 2021. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Donna Drew Sawyer, who was named the Chief Executive Officer of BOPA in 2017, during the administration of former Mayor Catherine Pugh, did not respond to requests for more information.

BOPA is the city’s official arts council, events center and film office. Under Sawyer, in conjunction with the mayor’s office and the city health department, BOPA has called off numerous major events citing COVID-related public health concerns, including Light City, the Baltimore Book Festival and Inner Harbor fireworks celebrations for New Years and the Fourth of July. The last Artscape was in 2019.

One planning obstacle for BOPA is that, besides Sawyer, all of the people with any experience putting on previous Artscape festivals are no longer with the agency.

Roz Healy, BOPA’s former Chief Operating Officer, is now executive director of Camp Opportunity, a non-profit that works with at-risk children. Kathy Hornig, the former Director of Festivals for BOPA, known as its “festival guru,” said she and three other events staffers were let go during the pandemic and BOPA does not currently have a festival staff.

Hornig has since opened her own company, called Five Star Festivals & Events. Separately, as a contract employee for Sail Baltimore, she is part of a larger team planning Maryland Fleet Week & Flyover 2022, scheduled for Sept. 7 to 13 in Baltimore. She said she’d love to work on another Baltimore Book Festival.

“It’s been my pleasure to produce many of the region’s most magical moments,” Hornig says in a message on her LinkedIn page. “If you’ve ever danced to live music at Artscape, gazed at inspiring art works of Light City, been inspired by awesome authors at the Baltimore Book Festival or oohed and aaahed at the mega-fireworks display at Star-Spangled Spectacular, then you’ve enjoyed one of my five star festivals and events.”

Hornig also wrote a letter to the editor that ran in The Baltimore Sun last June, after Artscape 2021 was cancelled, urging the mayor and others to bring back the city’s major festivals and events. Its headline: “Baltimore needs the uplifting return of special events, concerts and festivals.”

“Don’t give up on special events in Baltimore,” Hornig said in her letter. “We know that during challenging chapters of the city’s history, special events serve as a positive force for change. Now is the time for some good news in Baltimore.”

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Ed Gunts

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

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