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Arts / Events

I spy drones: How Artscape brought tech to Baltimore’s skies

A reporter attended Baltimore’s beloved annual public arts festival. Here’s an overview of the primary tech offerings she saw as she eased on down through the event’s first iteration in four years.

Drones positioned in the shape of a caduceus during the University of Maryland Medical Center-sponsored show at Artscape 2023. ( Nichole Davis)

In African-American Vernacular English, we say things like “chile” to emphasize distress, excitement or curiosity with regard to a person, place or thing. It’s an improper noun.

In the 1978 film “The Wiz,” a few seconds into Michael Jackson’s performance of “You Can’t Win,” you can hear him say, “You can’t win child, you can’t break even and you can’t get out of the game.” Most lyric sites spell it correctly but we (mainly Black folks) know he meant “chile”.

If you were to ask me prior to Artscape weekend, which started on Friday, Sept. 22 and ended the following Sunday, if I was attending, I would have said something like:

Chile, I don’t know.

After experiencing all the uncertainty surrounding the festival since 2019 — including canceled performers and ongoing discussions about its budget with city officials, along with the introduction of new leadership — I must admit I had reservations about attending. However, my confidence was somewhat bolstered after a conversation with Todd Yuhanick, the interim CEO of the nonprofit Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) that the city contracts with to produce several of its topline arts events.

During our discussion, Yuhanick emphasized his belief in the fusion of technology and art at Artscape, particularly highlighting the drone show sponsored and inspired by the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). He was optimistic about how this technological integration could enhance the overall artistic experience for festival attendees.

“I think we can harness technology and our drones is a perfect example of that,” he said. “It’s a novel way to express art and celebrate the University of Maryland’s significant contribution to our city. I truly believe it will elevate the evening of great music and entertainment, with its spectacular light show serving as an integral part of the experience.”

Yuhanick spoke with me before forces of Mother Nature and Tropical Storm Ophelia ultimately led to a cancellation of Saturday’s Artscape festivities, according to a press release sent to over the weekend.

Drawing inspiration from the imaginative realm depicted in a film like “The Wiz,” I seized the opportunity to delve into Yuhanick’s vision for the evolving role of technology at Artscape in the years to come. Given the boundless potential of emerging technologies, I asked him to unveil his boldest ideas concerning the integration of any technology or feature into Artscape. What was his most audacious dream for the festival’s technological evolution?

“I aspire to fully embrace the intersection of art and technology, recognizing the significant role technology plays in the artistic landscape,” he said. “I would love to witness the creation of an exhibit in the future that centers around technology, seamlessly weaving it into the fabric of Artscape, celebrating its presence. Moreover, I envision an experimental section within Artscape, dedicated to exploring and promoting the fusion of technology and art, providing funding and encouragement for innovative technological artistic endeavors.”

As I stood watching the drone show, my initial apprehension melted for a moment into a contemplative and silent reverence. I gazed in wonder at Open Sky Productions’ UMMC-sponsored display, which UMMC Senior Director of Marketing and Communications Denise Marino said prior to the event was ultimately rooted in the center’s West Baltimore community.

“We were elated when Artscape accepted our invitation to host the UMMC Bicentennial drone exhibition, primarily because of the community,” Marino said. “The West Baltimore community holds immense significance for our academic medical center. It’s our home, and the people in the vicinity of our campus require resources beyond healthcare. We are actively assisting our community through workforce education, mobile food units, health education and more. It’s a true privilege to provide care and support to them and their families. The special drone demonstration was our way of conveying to them just how much we value their well-being.”

The tribute to Baltimore, its healthcare workers and especially the West Baltimore community was nothing short of inspiring.

Open Sky could not be immediately reached for comment on the tech behind the drone show. Besides this display, tech made its way into several other festival offerings, including BOPA’s digital map and key of the festival’s geographic footprint and the Gamescape showcase of locally developed video games.

A street scene during Artscape 2023. ( Nichole Davis)

In the continued spirit of supporting local arts, “The Wiz” is actually playing now near UMMC at The Hippodrome, in case you wanted to ease on down to Eutaw Street before the last show on Sept. 30.

What were your favorite Artscape moments? Let us know by emailing

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore / University of Maryland Medical System

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