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Artscape vs. Whartscape

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It’s the weekend of July 18th, and that means in one part of Baltimore, Artscape, “America’s largest, free public arts festival” is going on, and in another part of the city, Whartscape, put on by the Wham City dudes–best exemplified by Dan Deacon, performance art, farty electronic dance party horseshit, etc.–is going on. Whartscape has acts like The Oxes, Videohippos, White Williams, Future Islands, Black Dice, Parts & Labor, aforementioned Dan Deacon, Matmos, Spank Rock, and Beach House. Artscape has acts like Kidz in the Hall, Mario, a reunited Dru Hill, Roberta Flack, Wizz Khalifa, DIPLO, and the Clipse. Tons of local stuff too, including Baltimore Club acts like Blaq Starr, Rye-Rye, K-Swift, and Scottie B.

In past years at Artscape, I’ve had the fortune to see Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Morris Day & the Time, De La Soul, Common, Burning Spear, The Isley Brothers, and Lupe Fiasco all for free. Whartscape costs 12 bucks a day or 40 for a three-day pass (I’m not sure why a three-day pass is less of a deal than buying tickets for all three days…). In addition to the music of Artscape, there’s lots of food and drinks, and lots of well, art. It’s set-up like a state fair or something, with people selling their weirdo art in little tents/booths that they had to pay for, but the Baltimore police are surprisingly nice during the weekend of Artscape and you can usually find or be someone who just throws a towel on the ground and hocks homemade buttons or crappy drawings or whatever. It’s pretty great and basically, it’s more D.I.Y or “indie” or “punk” or whatever than hipster haven Whartscape.

The whole thing’s also symptomatic of the increased popularity and corporatization of “indie” culture–this includes small collectives like Wham City–and just how quickly they fall into the traps that they’re art was supposed to oppose. 12 dollars isn’t a lot of money and of course, Artscape’s state-funded, but it’s funny that they’re charging much at all, given the ever-increasing popularity of Deacon and company. I mean, in conventional business terms, the more popular and big something is, the more you charge, and the more money made, but given the D.I.Y-ish nature of Wham City, it reeks of bullshit.

There’s always been talk of Artscape’s interest in courting out-of-town acts and artists over local stuff and it’s oft-cited by Wham City as a reason for Whartscape. A closer look at the list of acts makes Wham City look less like supporters of the city and more like exploiters. Deacon’s not originally from the city, nor is Beach House, Matmos are recent West Coast transfers, and Spank Rock abandoned the city for Philadelphia only to invoke their “Bmore”-ness when it got them some street cred when ‘The Wire’ became stuff white people like. Meanwhile, performing at Artscape is a core group of Baltimore Club musicians–although they’re all Unruly Records artists for the most part, which is a little weird–that’ve been and stayed decidedly Baltimore for more than a decade now.

Whartscape’s roots are reactionary and it’s been a problem since the small festival started three years ago. Wham City-ers are quick to explain that their festival is not in opposition to Artscape and that they encourage Whartscape attendees to drop by Artscape as well, but when it’s 12 bucks a day and 40 for all three, it’s beginning to feel like its own, secluded mini-festival away from, as Dan Deacon said about 2006’s Artscape, “families eating gyros and looking at painted plates”. Deacon further justifies Whartscape by saying: “We just wanted to broaden the whole aspect. We just don’t feel that Artscape is weird enough, and art should be kind of weird.”

There’s the additional issue that Al Shipley pointed out in his City Paper NOISE blog entry: “the advance hype for this year’s installment [of Whartscape] that you get the feeling there are a good number of people across the country now who have heard of Whartscape but have no idea there was something called Artscape first”. Wham City can’t be blamed for having more appeal across blogs and hip music websites, but they can be blamed for half-purposefully framing Artscape as this totally square event that it simply isn’t.

Deacon and the Wham City group are quick to use the word “weird” and suggest that Artscape just isn’t weird enough and so, they’ve created an alternative, but the the thing is, families eating gyros and looking at painted plates–and walking by some weird Baltimore Club DJ set or like, getting to see a true music legend, all for free– is totally weird. A bunch of people from all areas of Baltimore, in one place together looking at bottle cap covered cars and paintings and eating fried dough is way more weird than a sloppy group of day-glo cool kids hanging out with other cool kids in another fucking city artspace. Artscape’s a genuinely populist event: for free, in the city, easily accessible to anyone who cares to drive, take a bus, or the light-rail down and get off at the Mt. Royal Ave. stop and you’re right there in it.

Written by Brandon

July 19th, 2008 at 7:23 am

Posted in Baltimore, Clipse, Indie

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