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Business & Developmentby Fern Shen8:51 amJul 22, 20130

Spontaneity, diversity, no cars – an urban studies seminar with a side of fried dough

Could Artscape have something to teach Baltimore about everyday life, all across the city, all year-long?

Above: A nice thing about Artscape – total strangers find themselves dancing together.

Well, it happened once again. Despite the broiling hot weather, the fried food fumes and the usual amount of schlock-and-corporate ware hawking, Artscape was big fun.

Etta James with an Austrian accent? Yah, Meena Cryle and the Chris Fillmore blues band, playing on the Main Stage yesterday, were smoky, sultry and good.

A goddess of the grape giving dating advice while discoursing on wine? Annex Theatre’s 10-minute play festival in front of Penn Station had people cackling.

Belly dancing that was Bollywood-ish, with just a touch of the Bada Bing Club? You don’t see that on Charles Street every day. Five skilled members of the Red Tent dance troupe out of D.C. just tore it up!

The Red Tent dancers, on Charles Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The Red Tent dancers performing on Charles Street. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Real Street Life

Here’s another thought. The things that make Baltimore’s annual three-day street-level smorgasbord of music, arts, crafts and food enjoyable are features that ought to be hard-wired throughout the city on all the other days of the year.

Spontaneity (strangers danced, kids tried lucha-libre Mexican wrestling), affordability (it’s free!), diversity (we had plenty) and no cars (streets blocked off, people biking, walking, taking the light rail).

All those Jane Jacobs values seemed to be on display.

Maybe instead of ordering up another consultant’s report on how to “grow” the city and (try to) gin up redevelopment with TIF subsidies, the mayor and other movers and shakers could just look at some Youtubes from Artscape.

They might want to have a break-out session on the subject of free speech, by the way.

Anti-abortion Protesters Again

As happened last year, anti-abortion picketers were by the Lyric with those graphic bloody-red fetus photos. And as they did last year, police allowed them to remain there, despite objections from passersby: that their signage was anti-choice, in poor taste, inappropriate for an arts festival, disturbing for children, etc.

(The Brew brought up the inconsistency argument last year. That is, why were the police okay with taking away the sign made by pro-recreation center protesters – a plywood image of a rec center they wanted to wheel past City Hall? Why, in January 2012, weren’t those Occupy Baltimore protesters’ First Amendment rights protected? The rec center sign was removed by police and thrown in a city trash truck. Police later said the difference was thatthe rec center sign “would block pedestrian flow and cause a safety hazard.”)

Orange-shirted counter-protesters made a statement by standing in front of graphic anti-abortion signage at Artscape. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Orange-shirted counter-protesters made a statement by standing in front of graphic anti-abortion signage at Artscape. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

This year, on Saturday, pro-abortion rights advocates were ready. Wearing orange shirts, they stood in front of the bloody fetus signs. There weren’t enough of them to totally block anyone’s view but they, also, were able to make their point.

It appeared that the police allowed both sides to do their thing. (Participants or observers are welcome to report to us what they saw or experienced.)

Free Pizza, Open Discourse

Anyway, free speech and open discourse is another one of those urban values worth encouraging in Baltimore beyond three special days.

“Accountability for torturers,” read the message on a sign one man held out on Mount Royal Avenue. (Speaking of torture, not far away was a “Human Branding” demonstration, in which a woman appeared to be getting a tattoo burned into her arm while people gawked. Not sure if any flesh was actually being scorched in this performance art-piece, but the woman did seem to be grimacing.)

Maybe it’s just me, but it made me happy when the guy on Mount Royal handed me a flier about U.S. policy allowing torture of detainees and said, “Barbara Mikulski needs to get phone calls!”

Just as happy as when I reached the display with the salsa dancing contest, right next to some very tasty free pizza.

“I want you to be my Ti Ne Ni Na Nu!” Meena Cryle sings the blues.

“She is going to defile her body!” the carnival barker said, as the tatttoo artist pressed the point of a buzzing device to this woman’s arm. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“Barbara Mikulski needs to be called,” this man, picketing on Mount Royal Ave., said. (Photo by Fern Shen)

One of the Annex Theatre's quickie plays. (Photo by Fern Shen)

One of the Annex Theatre’s quickie plays. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Striking a pose at Artscape. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Striking a pose at Artscape. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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