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The Nose

Artscare

Posted 11/14/2001

During these crisp, cool autumn days it's kind of hard to think of Artscape, the annual blowout celebration of art and fried food invariably held during the muggiest, most maddeningly hot weekend in July. But then we got a whiff of some strange goings-on down at the Bromo-Seltzer tower, aka the Baltimore Arts Tower, home to the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture (MACAC), which manages the summer festival.

Turns out there's quite the one-way revolving door at the 27-year-old agency these days: People spin out, but new ones don't spin in. Clair Zamoiski Segal, who'd been MACAC's head maven for more than 13 years, announced her resignation in August and left in October. When we called to see how the hiring hunt was going, we were told we needed to speak to MACAC's public-relations person--only to discover that the PR chair is also vacant, its former warmer having left last month. The agency's development point-person recently departed as well.

Of course, it's likely that a few city positions are going unfilled at the moment, what with terrorism czar Martin O'Malley and his administration busy stalking the Unseen Enemy. But the rumors escaping from the Arts Tower have it that this marked inactivity on the MACAC front is less a reflection of the present crisis than of the mayor's desire to reorganize, and perhaps downsize, his arts and culture cabinet. In the meantime, the longer the director's desk sits empty, the longer important Artscape fund-raising letters remain unsent. The Nose hears these mailings--which generate much of the festival's financing--are a good month behind, and their timing is crucial: The corporate types perennially tapped to underwrite Artscape like to pony up before the new tax year begins.

To hear those MACAC hands still on deck talk, all this flux is enough to make them reach for a blue jar of the headache cure once made in their home. The Nose was ready to reach for our own Bromo to ease the pain we had trying to get direct answers about MACAC's status from city officials city officials. All we could get from O'Malley's press office was an acknowledgement that the his guitar-strumming honor remains committed to the arts: "Everyone knows how close the arts are to this mayor's office." Asked when a new director might be hired, Baltimore Office of Promotions executive director Bill Gilmore--who was recently paid a cheerleading visit to MACAC to, as he put it, "reassure the troops the mayor is committed to the mission and vitality of their programming"--says he is "not in that loop." Gilmore did tell us he's going over the Artscape mailings to see what needs to go out and when.

We can only conclude that nobody knows what's going on, or at least nobody wants to chat about it. Which has us wondering what July would be like without the steamy weekend of art, music, grease, and sweat-soaked jocularity we fondly call Artscape. Let's hope we don't get to find out.

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