Columbus Arts Festival returns after two-year pandemic delay
For two years, artists and art lovers have missed downtown Columbus’ biggest outdoor summer party.
No more. The (almost) annual Columbus Arts Festival returns Friday through Sunday. Some 500,000 people are expected to savor the visual arts, entertainment and food packed into a one-mile loop along the Scioto River.
“I’m so excited to have him back. It’s the best free ticket in town,” said Lonni Thompson, a German Village resident who has attended the Festival of the Arts since the mid-1980s.
“It’s awesome,” said arts festival director Sean Kessler. “Fingers crossed for good weather.”
How the festival started
The Greater Columbus Arts Council, which presents the festival, calls this year’s event the 60th – counting from the first festival in 1962.
This first festival in 1962 was held on the Statehouse lawn at Broad and High streets.
In a video celebrating the festival’s 50th anniversary, civic leader Norman Folpe recalled how a committee he led decided more cultural and entertainment events were needed downtown. A stage was erected in front of the state capitol and dozens of artist booths were set up on the lawn for the weekend festival.
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The festival continued there, under the direction in 1974 of the newly created Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC). Children’s programming was added with more performers and artists. Among those early participating artists were famed woodcarver Elijah Pierce and master photographer Kojo Kamau.
Overtaking the Statehouse lawn, the festival moved to the Scioto Riverfront in 1982, where it remained until 2007. In 1985, Ray Hanley, the new president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, pushed the festival to become bigger and better . Typically the festival ran for a weekend, but in 1991, primarily because Columbus was hosting the National Assembly of Local Arts Councils conference, the festival was a 10-day event.
Due to the ongoing redevelopment of Scioto Mile, the festival moved east to the Discovery District near the Columbus College of Art & Design in 2008, then returned to the Scioto Riverfront in 2011, where it remained until to the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted just about every facet. of life.
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“Canceling the festival in 2021 was difficult, but not as difficult as canceling it in 2020,” Kessler said. “It was never about wanting to postpone. Artists build their year by traveling the country and doing these festivals. In 2021, there weren’t enough people vaccinated and there were these other surges to come. It was about protecting people.”
In September 2021, artist applications opened and in February 2022, Kessler said,
GCAC was quite confident that the festival would go ahead.
What to expect at the festival this year
The 2022 festival will have fewer performers – 212 compared to a festival of over 300 – partly to ensure everyone’s health and safety as well as to circumvent some construction still underway on the ground.
Booths and artist stages will be found along the river and across the Rich Street and Main Street bridges. Three stages will provide live entertainment and a new feature, Film at the Fest, will feature all-day movies and family movies on Friday and Saturday nights.
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About 30 food trucks (no food tents this year) and beverage stands – lemonade and beer are the best sellers – will be on site.
The festival costs around $1.2 million to organise, paid for by sponsor contributions, artist booth fees and beer sales – the latter being a key source of income for the presenting GCAC.
“If it’s brutally hot or humid, people don’t buy alcohol,” said Jami Goldstein, GCAC’s vice president for marketing, communications and events. (The sweet spot for peak beer sales seems to be temperatures between 78 and 82 degrees.)
Artists participating in the festival
Artists will come from 36 states and Ontario, Canada to show and sell their work in a variety of mediums: ceramics, drawing, fiber, glass, jewelry, leather, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and more .
After submitting photos of their work, artists are selected by a blind jury of five local art experts. Artists pay a nominal registration fee and then booth fees, ranging from $600 to $2,000 depending on the size and amenities of their booth. All profits from their art sales belong to them. Average sales for an artist are $8,000 over the three days.
Larry Allen, a potter from Leeds, Alabama, has attended about 10 Columbus art festivals and plans to be back this year. A veteran of art festivals across the country, he ranks the Columbus Festival as “the highest level of art exhibits.”
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During COVID, Allen said, he’s been selling works online, which he’d rather not do.
“I love meeting people at festivals and I really hate packing things up and mailing them,” he said.
More featured artists and entertainment
In addition to the artists selected by the jury, approximately 30 Central Ohio artists will show and demonstrate their crafts in the Big Local Arts Village.
In the Children’s Art Gallery, a longtime feature of the arts festival, children can purchase works donated by artists for $5 or less. (My 30-year-old daughter hung a beautiful picture at home that she bought for $5 at the arts festival when she was in elementary school.)
Music, dance, theatre, storytelling, spoken word and other live performances will take place on three stages on the festival grounds. Among the artists programmed: The Deal Breakers, Kelly Zullo & The Invisible Circus, Largemouth Brass Band, Columbus Celtic Dancers, Columbus Children’s Theatre, Shadowbox Live and members of the Black Women Rise Poetry Collective.
And inevitably, street artists show up. Sean Perry, 20, a student at the University of Miami, has walked the field playing the violin at a dozen festivals. He says he started when he was 10 years old.
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The street artists at the festival, he said, “contribute to this atmosphere of discovery… I’ve seen so many parents stop and ask how to involve their children in learning the violin. It’s a wonderful experience and I’m happy to pass on my love of music.
The gorilla on the ground
The big question mark is the weather.
In recent years, the Arts Festival has endured two dismal weather years – 2011 when wind in the form of El Derecho ripped through the pitch and 2015 when it rained, rained, rained.
Kessler remembers holding part of an artist’s tent flapping in high winds as the artist continued to make a sale. Goldstein remembers standing in a few inches of water in another tent.
“The most frustrating thing about hosting an outdoor festival is the weather that you can’t control,” she said.
Festival fans await the return of the event
Among those hoping for good weather are Mike Maly and her husband, Greg Maly, who have been visiting the arts festival since the late 1990s, meeting artists and buying work for their Woodland Park home.
“It’s an incredible and diverse group of artists from across the country,” said Mike Maly. “We bought acrylic paintings, glass sculptures, iron sculptures… This year we want to get a new outdoor glass sculpture.”
Maly said the festival is outdoors, and they are “vaxed and boosted and not concerned about COVID”.
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“We are so happy the festival is back,” he said. “There are so many things in this country that divide us now, but it’s one thing that brings us together.”
Lonni Thompson agreed.
“COVID isn’t going away, but we can’t put our lives on hold forever,” she said.
“The festival brought the downtown waterfront to life. I look around my house and see unique things I bought there – like the wire monkey hanging from my 120 year old magnolia that makes everyone laugh… The arts festival is a cultural event that brings people together people and this year makes the meeting even more valuable.
In one look
The Columbus Arts Festival will take place Friday, Saturday and Sunday, downtown by the Scioto River. Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The party is free. For more information, including parking and alternatives, visit www.columbusartsfestival.org.