Jonathan Gilmore blazes the stage at the 37th Artscape Festival with his band The Jonathan Gilmore Project. (Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Gilmore, shot by Brandon Tucker)

By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer,

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Artscape, one of the largest free outdoor arts festivals, returned to Baltimore.

Artscape took place Sept. 22 through Sept. 24 at the 1300 to 1800 blocks of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. Despite Tropical Storm Ophelia delaying and even canceling certain days of the festival, thousands of people still came out to participate in all the festival had to offer.

This year’s festival was full of exciting visual artists, musicians, culinary delights, interactive activities and vendors. The arts scene is a large portion of Baltimore’s rich and unique culture, and Artscape has long been a platform for local Black artists to showcase their talents and make their mark on the city.

“It’s important to have Black people in the fashion space because we truly embody the culture,” said creative director, Ashley Nyack. “We represent Black excellence and we share our voice through our style.” 

Using art as an expression has been happening since the beginning of time. It is an outlet that allows people to be seen in new lights, provide a voice to those who are otherwise silent and to tell stories in the most creative ways. 

Local artist,  Jonathan Gilmore sat down with the AFRO to discuss what art has done for him and it was like performing on the Artscape mainstage for his very first time. 

AFRO : Can you talk to me about your Artscape performance ? 

JG : I performed on the mainstage, Friday, September 22, at 6:15 p.m. with my band The Jonathan Gilmore Project. Of course, the John Gilmore Project is also associated with Funktopia. It was awesome! I got to actually pull out my full band and my full support vocals. We did a lot of my original music and some fun covers that people know.   

AFRO : How did this opportunity occur ? 

JG : It was really wild! I got a phone call from BOPA randomly. They said that they were very aware of the work I’ve been doing as well as with Funktopia and a lot of people have been telling them about me and everything.  I came highly recommended, and they put me on. We got to open for the amazing, Muni Long and DJ Pee.Wee. It was a big moment because Artscape is such a big festival for Baltimore and I’ve been working a very long time in this city,just performing and singing around and doing my thing. For it to be noticed was a wonderful moment.

AFRO : What did this opportunity mean to you ? 

JG :  I was born and raised in this city, and I love Baltimore! Since I was little, my first memories of Artscape are being on my father’s shoulders, just walking around seeing all the performers and always dreaming that it would be me– that I’m going to be on that stage. This performance was such a big one for me and to get there and to not be singing back up and doing my own music. I got to just stand there and kind of own that moment. It was amazing! It really, really was amazing!

AFRO : What was your biggest goal for your performance ? 

JG : I definitely think that this was a big moment, but it’s just another door opening to get access to even more moments that are just as big. My goal was to go up there and kill it. I wanted to give every bit of vocals I had. I’m not a ‘quiet singer’ by any means. My singers are not quiet singers– they are all lead singers within their own right. I wanted to just go up there and sing them down. 

My show was once described as a cross between church and a juke joint and that’s really kind of where I exist.  I exist at that crossroads, where I want to give you all of that spiritual intensity, but also the freedom to let loose. I think it’s the preacher’s kid in me and then it’s that little bit of sinner in me. They always want to show up at the same time.

AFRO :What do you feel you bring to the Baltimore arts scene ? 

JG : I bring some very raw, authentic soul. It is my goal to perform Black music in its entirety. I want to reach all the spaces where Black people are touched to make sure that my sound is relevant and fresh, but also that we never lose all of the amazing Black creators that have gone before us. I bring a little bit of history, a little bit of just something wild. It’s a lot of fun. When I was performing there were all these little kids. All these little Black boys and girls that were standing around dancing and everything and I hope and pray that when they saw us take the stage that they saw that they can also get on the stage as well because that’s how it started for me. I was just looking on stage and just like, ‘Oh my god, I gotta get up there” and hopefully, that inspires the next artists to get up there and kill it.

AFRO : Why is it important that we continue to emphasize and shine a light on the arts ?

JG : For me, the arts was how I got to know myself and how I was able to get to know other people. After all of my loudness and craziness on stage, I am a horrifically shy person. I was never able to be one of those people who could just jump in, and just start going but art gave me a voice. 

Art gave me the medium to express everything that was going on within me. I think the closest I feel to God is when I’m creating art, because I have to imagine that’s what God felt like creating us and it’s how we get to create in return. The stage that’s my closest moment to myself. I think art is supposed to be given away.We learn it, we master it, and then we give it away and it’s really important to keep around.