Monday, July 11, 2011

ARTSCAPE and Racist Practices...A Letter of Concern

Below is a letter I drafted in 2005 to the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts about "ARTSCAPE" an art festival located in Baltimore, MD. To date nothing has ever been done about these practices and no one seems to want to cover the story. This year there were roughly 8 out of 150 artists. I have elected to not apply the past two years, but know for fact that the same thing is still happening.


January 17, 2005

Bill Gilmore, Executive Director
Jennifer Mange
Artscape- Baltimore’s Festival of the Arts, Inc.
Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts
7 East Redwood Street, Suite 500
Baltimore, MD 21202

Dear Mr. Gilmore,

I have been a professional full time artist for 24 years and an active participant with Artscape since the days when you created a Marketplace in front of the Fox Building. I am proud native
of Baltimore, educated in Baltimore, and a graduate of The Maryland Institute College of Art.
I participate in approximately 25 shows a year all over the country. These shows include gallery shows, art trade shows, art festivals, art expos, and national conventions. They are all either juried, vendor based, or by invitation. I am also a dedicated African American artist advocate.
I have a personal relationship with most of the African American artists nationally and particularly in the Baltimore- Washington area. Many of them applying to Artscape by my recommendation. I can remember when only Maryland artists could participate in Artscape.

I can also remember that few African American artists were selected for the fine art and crafts area. The Marketplace was the only way most of us were able to participate in Artscape because most of us could not survive the jurying process for the crafts area. Ethnic themed art was often overlooked in the jurying process. Although segregated from the crafts area, The Marketplace grew by leaps and bounds until booth spaces began to continue up Mount Royal Avenue toward North Avenue. Many of the local artists, the majority of them African American, developed a following during this short period and Artscape benefited from their active participation. When the decision was made to combine the show or lets just say discontinue the Marketplace, It was the first time that many African Americans were included in the Crafts area. I was even selected to curate an exhibition in the Fox Building as well as lecturing on display options to exhibitors on behalf of Artscape. Progress is progress and we are all inspired to positive progressions in Artscape.

The past three years of participating in Artscape has been very unusual. I suddenly became deluged with questions from other African American artists about Artscape. I can give you a
list of 15 artists that I personally promoted the show to nationally for participation. Lately the questions most from these artists are about the selection process? I having participated and accepted in Artscape for the past 10 years, began to see weird occurrences with my African American artist colleagues over the past few years. It seems that we were either “Accepted”, placed on the “Alternate List” or “Rejected”. I recently urged the top contemporary African American Artist in the country to submit and application and to my shock and dismay Artscape “Rejected” Charles A. Bibbs. Many of the local Baltimore African American artists over the past two years have either been on the “Alternate List” or “Rejected”. I have artist accounts of being placed on the “Alternate List” and offered participation. I have artist accounts of being “Rejected” and being called in the morning of set-up. I have an artist account of a conversation with Jennifer Mange who was told that the festival had selected enough Ethnic or Afrocentric Art submissions for jurying. In my conversation with Jennifer Mange she flippantly mentioned that some of the “Accepted” artists either were lazy, or procrastinators, or opted out without notification, so she had to be sure all booth spaces were filled. Ms. Mange admitted that she would call the “local artists” to fill spaces. I have conversed with 12 local artists and asked them the results of their participation over the past three years and each one of them had either been selected as an “Alternate” or “Rejected” but none of them have been “Accepted” by jury more than once except me. I recently received my first “Alternate List” letter in 10 years with a call back, to which I declined participation. Many of the artist simply stopped submitting applications for Artscape.

These are clearly racist and discriminatory practices. It is not fair to the artists who go through the jurying process and are selected and pay for their booth spaces, are joined by artists that were rejected from the show and on two artist accounts didn’t have to pay for the space. It’s
not fair to pinpoint local artists that have been rejected, ask them for assistance in filling space, and then reject them the following year. It appears that the jurying process is utilized simply to screen the art. The majority of the artists I spoke with are accepted to some of the top festivals in the country, so quality of art is not an issue. How do you justify using local African American artists as last consideration “booth fill ins”? This procedure is an insult to all artists that have devoted their lives to their individual crafts.

The artists plan to continue to dialogue and further investigate this issue with any of the African American artists that have attempted to participate in Artscape the past few years. If filling booth space is the objective, the show should be vendor based. It’s a shame that Artscape has become politically or organizationally tainted with its proud history here in Baltimore City. African American artists are woven into the very fabric of the community and cultural events of this great city.

Larry Poncho Brown
Tommy Roberts
Charles A. Bibbs
Deborah A. Shedrick
Jerry Prettyman
Larry O. Brown
James Murphy, Jr.
Linda Gray
Karen Y. Buster
Leroy R. Jones, Jr.
Leonard Evans III
Samuel Christian Holmes
Jacqueline Philyaw
Kweise Mfume
Elijah Cummings
Martin O’Malley


  1. I am an African American artist accepted into Artscape this year. While I do agree that artists from our community are under represented at the festival, that opinion, I believe is misleading. What I do see at Artscape every year is a good representation of a particular genre of what I think you refer to as "ethnic art". Classic African American themed imagery (jazz, southern life, spirituality, mother an child, black love, black heros) depicted through often colorful, geometric, and somewhat abstracted techniques. While many love and appreciate this type of art, it becomes clique and i believe there is an over saturation of it in the market. The Artscape jury is blind so there is no way for the jurors to know the ethnicity of the artist. What matters is the work. If the jurors are seeing a lot of work in a particular style, or similar themes, then it is fair for them to want to make the selections more diverse, which would mean accepting less "ethnic art". Not to be confused with accepting less "ethnic artists".

  2. I feel strongly learning the topic, however I need to learn more on this topic.
    Carry on your updates..!!


    African American art, black African art