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Quick Sketches

Posted 8/19/2009

NEW "ARTS" FESTIVAL This weekend the inaugural Inner Harbor Art Festival takes over a stretch of downtown--Power Plant Live's Market Street corridor--and it arrives with an enthusiastic push from the city. Mayor Sheila Dixon announced the festival in early August, and the festival itself is a partnership between the non-profit Maryland Art Place, locally based real-estate developer the Cordish Company, and the Florida-based Howard Alan Events. Stories in the Daily Record and The Sun talk about this new Inner Harbor Art Festival in the same breath as Artscape, banking on the expectations of drawing "50,000 visitors to see works by 150 artists" that is "sure to give a much-needed boost to local museums and art galleries, who'll benefit from another influx of visitors primed to take in as much of the city's visual arts scene as possible during their stay," adding that the festival is also "great news for the city's artists, who will now have another well-attended venue at which to display and sell their creations."

Now, outside the satellite gallery shows and the stretch of local crafters included in this year's edition, Artscape doesn't exactly put local artists front and center as part of the festival's draw. It is, at least, organized and produced by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. Former chiropractor Howard Alan started doing his events when he "went into retail"--his words, from his artfestival.com web site--by featuring artists/crafters on consignment, and to drum up business he "strategically placed a 6-foot-4-inch gorilla named Magilla out on the street" as a publicity stunt. This is back story offered to explain Alan's "knack for advertising and public relations" and why he started Howard Alan Events, a "public relations and advertising agency specializing in art show promotions."

Perhaps what all local arts communities (Howard Alan Events' web site lists 53 cities nationwide) need is a good used-car gimmick to get people interested in their wares, but it's not entirely clear if the featured artists are actually going to be local. Artfestival.com provides links to downloadable application and contract ($15 non-refundable fee) that suggest the local arts fair is more of a traveling trade show along the lines of gems shows, featuring a mix of migrant artists who move about to the various Howard Alan Events fairs.

And if that works for these artists, more power to them--but the Inner Harbor Art Festival should not be sold as some kind of potential boon to local artists or their community. All distinguishing facts about the Inner Harbor Art Festival suggest that it will be local in the same way that McDonald's franchises are locally owned and good for local artists in the same way that a corporate chain might be willing to hire one.

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