Jim Lucio, the visual arts coordinator for the city’s Office of Promotion and the Arts, equates the nine months he spends working on Artscape each year to a pregnancy. The weekend-long fete, which carpets Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue with arts and music, is the country’s largest free arts festival. In that gestation period, the most challenging feat for Lucio is fashioning the myriad of spectacles into a fathomable, cohesive environment. “I look at the whole thing as one big, giant exhibit, one big experience, where you can start from one end, walk up or down Charles Street, and just discover these things on your own,” he says. He hopes to evoke the sense of “a mini-roadtrip” with this year’s theme, roadside attractions. Lucio sat down with City Paper, for whom he used to work as a graphic designer, to discuss the planning process and some of the weekend’s highlights.
City Paper: What goes into coordinating Artscape?
Jim Lucio: There’s no guidebook to it. So when I started, I really didn’t know what I was doing. But it starts with an idea, and then you kind of put a call out and word it as best you can so it appeals to a diverse creative group. I work really closely with curators to go over all the applications and proposals that come in. And a lot of it has to do with whether or not it works and whether the curator likes it and if we can do it logistically. We look at all these things: Is this appropriate? Is it safe? Do we have a space for this idea? And then, based on what the budget is, we can invite people to come do the thing. It’s a lot of problem-solving in between the time we accept these artists and execution. We’re doing this Autospa, [done by] this group from Pittsburgh. You drive through—it’s just a short little drive through this tent—the action takes place outside the car, but you’re seated in the car. It’s like a human carwash. They have water, they have suds, they have dancers, they have all kinds of moving parts. And just figuring out where to put this, how it’s going to work, where’s the water going to go, how are people going to experience it walking by, what is the experience on the inside—there’s just all kind of things that come up in the planning that aren’t necessarily thought of when you first come up with the idea. So that’s part of the process, and then staying on top of everything so things don’t fall through the cracks . . . You pray that everything just works out.
CP: How did the roadside attractions idea develop?
JL: When I am considering environments or themes for the festival, I try to consider the scope of the audience. I think my main criteria is to entertain kids, but not bore adults. So this theme of roadside attractions is great, because it allows for so many different artists to come up with ideas and things that will work for them, whether it’s photography, architecture—like novelty architecture you might see on the road—giant sculpture, that kind of thing. It can transfer to a lot of different disciplines, so it worked really well. And it could be very interactive also. If you’re driving and you want to stop at the Mystery Spot or some lost tourist trap. Everybody understands this theme very easily; you don’t have to think too much about it. And that kind of appealed to me as well. I think kids are a lot more sophisticated and tuned-in than a lot of people give them credit for. So if you do something with a little more humor, a little more of an edge, it’s not that far of a stretch for adults to enjoy it, and for kids to get the gist of what’s going on without having to deal with every detail of it. I think it’s more about loosening up for adults and appreciating how smart kids are.
CP: What are some of the roadside attractions Artscape-goers should look out for?
JL: I don’t want to pinpoint one thing because I’m excited about all of them . . . I’m really excited to see Roadhouse. It’s a really awesome structure that Morgan State students are designing and building on-site—well, they’re building it in part and putting it together on-site. And that is aimed at creating a really fun environment where people can dance and hang out . . . We also have Tim Scofield and Renee Tantillo, [who] are two sculptors, and they’re building/designing two pieces with materials supplied by the state highway administration, so that’s really cool. It ties in really well with the theme—they’re using discarded metal signage to make these kinetic pieces. So that’s awesome. There’s just so much. I’m excited that the banana car is coming. I’m excited to see the lost luggage piece: 1-800-GOT-JUNK is supplying a bunch of suitcases, so it’s another example of this sculptural piece that can function as seating also.
CP: Do you get to enjoy Artscape?
JL: Oh yeah, I love it. I’m really busy. I have two cell phones that are constantly ringing for that whole week; I’m running around like a crazy person; I’m darkening my tan. It’s a blast. I kind of thrive on the insanity. It’s fortunate that way.