In Washington, D.C., there are a half-dozen festivals every weekend. Going to any requires superhuman effort. In urban Baltimore, festivals are what there is to do. And there are just few enough festivals in Baltimore that every one is a big deal and a reason to get out the door so you can have not quite as much fun as you think you’re going to have.
Like simchas, Baltimore prepares for these moments with solemn knowledge that we’re commanded to be happy. Do we enjoy ourselves? Yeah, I guess. If you lower your expectations and find a way to relish a mildly enjoyable social obligation, there’s comfort in knowing you’ll see the exact same people in the exact same situations every year, celebrating as a statement that we’ve survived from one festival to the next, hoping to live long enough to celebrate another festival.
Artscape’s not only the largest free arts festival in America, but the weekend Baltimore gives large stages to its artists. It’s easy to overlook how many Baltimoreans work in the arts because there are so few stages on which they can display their talents. Most Americans are prejudiced against people who make careers in the arts, and because of their prejudice, thousands of artists never get opportunities that stretch their talents. Every time you snicker at some piece of modern art you find incomprehensible, think about what this artist might have created if people paid attention to what he did. It’s very hard to know how a public will interpret what artists make when they’ve never experienced a public that cares about what they do.
The American belief that you don’t need high art to have a good life is catching up with itself. If Americans of 2017 took the fanaticism we give to political beliefs and put it into fanatical care about the arts, would the temperature of America cool down? I have no idea, but for all the superficial ways artists are different from typical people, all we ever wanted to do is to live fulfilling lives according to the dictates of our inner voice that calls us to live differently from the people around us and give our communities ways to make your lives more fulfilling.
Artscape is Baltimore’s High Holy Days, and I particularly enjoy Sunday Night at Artscape, it’s Baltimore’s Ne’ilah. Only the truly devoted are still there. Being at one of those last concerts with the true believers feels like a communal prayer — that Baltimore, that America, can discover the potential that lies waiting to be tapped and that we can all help each other come closer to living our best selves.
Next year in Baltimore. Amen.
Evan Tucker is a North-Baltimore based writer.