By Gretchen Hirsch
The calendar says summer begins on June 21, but for artists and arts lovers throughout the country, summer officially arrives three weeks earlier, June 7-9, with the opening of the Columbus Arts Festival, presented by Time Warner Cable and produced by the Greater Columbus Arts Council.
Now in its 52nd year, the nationally acclaimed Festival offers something for everyone in a spectacular city-within-the-city located on the scenic Scioto Mile. With its water features, green spaces, and easy access, the venue is perfect for the event, says Festival Director Scott Huntley. “The Columbus Arts Festival is a celebration of all the arts, and our location makes it possible to showcase not only the finest in art and craft, but also in music, dance and the spoken word.
“This year, more than 1,000 artists in 16 different media vied to enter the Festival,” Huntley said. “The Festival grounds, which include two great new bridges over the Scioto River, offer an endless gallery where visitors can enjoy viewing wonderful art by more than 270 artists who were juried in by our panel of art experts. Visitors have lots of opportunities to chat with the artists in a relaxed setting.”
“The stages are in constant use,” Huntley continued, “so our patrons can also find almost every kind of music and performance. When it’s time for a break, the food is terrific and the ambiance unmatched. The Festival is free to attendees, making it the ideal destination for families on a budget.”
Art for—and by—Every Age
For young to not-so-young patrons, the Festival is a place of discovery and excitement. Although some make the Artist Market their first stop, the littlest visitors and their parents often make a beeline for the Hands On Arts Activities located in the Huntington Local Arts Pavilion. This year, varied activities will tempt younger artists: they can make tie-dyed flowers with friends from the Firefly Play Cafe, sculpt unique handmade paper with Dan Colvin of Cobenick Studios, create an adventure journal with the Ohio Craft Museum, draw with a scribbling robot from COSI and learn how to make their own scribbling machine, design a unique comic book character with U Cre-8 Comics, decorate a carrier with Macaroni Kid for toting their works of art around the Festival and taking them home, make an animal silhouette with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium , glaze pottery with Clayspace and watch as their piece is fired, and help make a bottle cap mural with Columbus Recreation and Parks.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoon, children 12 or younger have the opportunity to buy art generously donated by the artists who participate in the Festival. It’s all priced to fit, with no piece of art costing more than five dollars. And after they select their artwork at the Children’s Art Gallery, the kids are invited to come to the Artist Market to meet the artist who donated the piece.
The Big Local Art Tent is, of course, the place to find work by Columbus artists, see live art demonstrations and talk with local artists from area groups and collectives. Adults also can test their own artistic skills with some make-and-take projects led by participating artists.
Also focusing on central Ohio artists is the Emerging Artists Program. All the artists in the program are residents of Franklin and surrounding counties who have limited or no experience exhibiting and selling work in large outdoor settings. This year, eight of these artists were selected by the same jury that chose all the other participating artists; they received assistance from the Festival staff on how best to exhibit and sell their art to the public. Their booths can be found among the other artists at the Artist Market.
More than 100 pieces of exciting art by the latest generation of young local artists can be seen at the OSU Urban Arts Space at 50 W. Town Street, only a brief walk from the Festival grounds. The Student Art Exhibition includes works by students preschool to grade 12 from Columbus City Schools and many suburban districts.
On the Stages
The ColumbusArts.com Bicentennial Stage is booked for the entire Festival, featuring acoustic, folk, country, jazz, big band, pop, rock, drumming, alternative music, and the only 2013 performance by Watershed, a heavy-hitting Columbus rock favorite, at 9 p.m. on Saturday night.
The FlyColumbus.com Community Stage features dance styles from clogging to ballet to folk dancing, a performance by the Actors’ Theatre of Columbus, and music ranging from funk and rock to blues and Americana throughout all three days of the Festival. Headlining Friday night is TRANSIT ARTS, a unique combination of live music, spoken word and hip hop dancing.
Twenty-nine poets—and for the first time fiction and nonfiction writers as well—will read from their works on the Ohio Magazine Word is Art stage throughout the Festival. Saturday night, visitors will flock to the popular poetry slam that’s been a Festival highlight for many years. Ten poets will perform and be playfully critiqued by members of the audience. Also scheduled are poets and performers from Flip the Page, Ohio State University Poets and Young Docents from the Thurber House. This is also the place to find storytellers and Secrets of Oshun, a local women’s collective of performance poets.
Those making a day of it at the Columbus Arts Festival need food and drink, and there’s no need to leave the Festival grounds for palate-pleasing treats. You can chow down on an outrageous brownie, gobble gourmet ice cream, take advantage of Dine Originals’ fine fare, or drop by a food truck for inventive and delicious dishes. Whether omnivore or vegetarian, everyone can find something delectable.
Beverage stations throughout the Festival serve beer, wine and Jose Cuervo light margaritas, water and Coca-Cola products, as well as smoothies and fresh-squeezed lemonade.
Volunteers Bring the Columbus Arts Festival to Life
Wherever attendees find themselves at the Festival—at the Artist Market, checking out the action on one of the stages, or flopped out on the grass enjoying a beverage—they’re probably only about three steps from a volunteer. “Without the volunteers, the Columbus Arts Festival simply couldn’t happen,” Huntley said. “When I came in as director in February of last year, I was pretty nervous about getting everything ready in only four months. That’s when I discovered that the longtime volunteers had things well in hand. Although there was endless work to do, the volunteer Coordinating Committee and the 300 onsite volunteers really understand this Festival, and they make it work.”
Sixteen-year volunteer Patty Matthews, chair of the Artist Market Committee, is one of the volunteers Huntley depended on—and still does. “The committee has nine members and we are the ‘go-to’ for artists,” Matthews said. “We take care of jurying, checking in every artist for set-up, presenting awards, and monitoring art and booths and the Children’s Gallery. We also handle booth sitter volunteers, collect art for the Children’s Gallery, discuss any issues with artists, work with the Emerging Artists program, and constantly walk the Festival to take care of anything that might come up. I love meeting the artists and being part of my favorite Columbus event.”
Matthews often stays in touch with the artists she’s met. “With Facebook, it’s far easier. I hear about their work and their shows. I’ve learned to understand their careers and lifestyles so much better.”
The artists clearly appreciate the work of the Artist Market Committee. “They like the hospitality we show them,” Matthews said. “My team and I greet them, talk them through the show, and answer their questions. We always get good reviews about our help. Artists enjoy the Columbus crowds and they like the Coordinating Committee’s attention to detail across the Festival.”
Both Matthews and Marketing Committee chair Cindy Sams, who began coming to the Festival in the ’70s and has volunteered for years, have bought art from their favorite arts event. “I’m a glass groupie,” Matthews said. “I have at least eight pieces from the Festival, and I love artwork that has a story behind it.”
“I’ve purchased many items from CAF artists over the years,” Sams chimed in. “Most items I have absolutely fallen in love with and use or have them in my house to this day. My all-time favorite, and it turns out the highest-priced item, is a numbered print, ‘over-sized’ water color painting of an antique metal bank. The bank is a chef holding a ham and a knife. I named him Roy, because he looks like Roy Orbison.”
Volunteers must be flexible, Matthews said with a smile. “One year, we had a group of baby ducklings who couldn’t get out of the Bicentennial Fountain. There were too many people around and nowhere for them to exit. Mama Duck, keeping her distance from the people, was honking mad because she couldn’t get back to claim her ducklings. We called Wildlife Services and learned we had to fish those ducklings out right away because they could drown without their mother. We rolled up our pant legs and began to chase those slippery little ducks all around the fountain. We caught them and reunited them with their mom on the river. It was all in a day’s work for volunteers, but unusual, to say the least.”
A Greener Festival
“An event this big with this many people can leave quite a carbon footprint,” Huntley said, “but we’re taking steps to mitigate the environmental impact. We want to make this the greenest event of its kind in the United States. Wouldn’t it be terrific if when the Festival is over, the area looks even better than it did when we moved in?”
The Festival’s entire application process is online, keeping thousands of pieces of paper out of circulation. The ColumbusArts.com Bicentennial Stage will be powered by a generator that uses solar and wind energy. Special programs will reduce trash that eventually would end up in a landfill, and vendor food scraps will be recycled into compost. Clearly marked containers will help recycle paper, plastic, and pre-consumer food waste. A gray water program will keep the river cleaner. “Bike parking is available all around the Festival,” Huntley mentioned, “and Festival-goers are encouraged to take the ride with COTA. Sixteen different routes will get them to and from all the action. No parking problems. No parking fees. That’s a win for everyone.”
The Bigger Picture
No doubt the Columbus Arts Festival is one of the city’s premier events, but it also has a positive effect on many other aspects of life in Central Ohio. The Festival brings more than 400,000 people downtown, benefiting not only the artists who sell their wares to attendees, but also vendors and businesses large and small. Out-of-town visitors spend an average of $310 each on hotel, restaurants and other services for a whopping $3.7 million impact. In one weekend.
Because the Columbus Festival receives no public money and the event costs approximately $550,000 to stage, sponsorships are critical. This year’s Festival is presented by Time Warner Cable and additional sponsors include Adept Marketing, American Electric Power Foundation, Bic, Blue Moon, Clear Channel, Coca-Cola, Dine Originals, FlyColumbus.com, Glazer’s, Hollywood Casino, Huntington, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, La-Z-Boy, Live! Technologies, Orange Barrel Media, Sugardaddy’s, and The Westin Columbus. Media Sponsors include Alive, Ohio Magazine, WBNS 10TV, WOSU Public Media, CD102.5, WCBE 90.5, Mix 107.9 and Rewind 103.5/104.3.
“We’re grateful to our sponsors,” Huntley said, “because the mission of the Greater Columbus Arts Council is so important—and they help make the mission a reality by their presence at the Festival and their monetary contributions. This would not be the spectacular event it is without them.”
You Can Be a Friend
Those in the know are becoming Friends of the Festival. Friends’ donations help defray general operating expenses, are considered charitable donations, and are tax-deductible. To thank them for their participation, Friends receive perks such as free onsite parking near the exclusive VIP Lounge at the Cultural Arts Center, where they find a private cash bar, comfortable seating, private restrooms, complimentary water and snacks and more.
“We invite Friends to take a moment to relax in an intimate, quiet environment anytime during the Festival. Then they can head on out to see and hear more of the event consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best,” Matthews said.
“As each day winds down,” she went on, “we hope visitors will take a minute to enjoy what they see: the river, the lighted tents, the crowds, the happy faces and the cityscape. It’s a moment to savor, brought to you by the Columbus Arts Festival.”
Photo: Panoramic shot of the 2012 Columbus Arts Festival by local photographer, Larry Hamill.
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