If ArtFest could speak, it might make a special request for its 10th anniversary celebration:
Sunshine, big crowds and no wind.
Since, of course, an arts show can’t speak, let’s pull the request from the mouth of its co-founder and continuing organizer. Once we have, though, we have to recognize that Gina Freuen’s wish is bare-bones essential.
“We can deal with rain and everything else,” she says, “but not wind. It blows things over.”
ArtFest, the decade-old arts party held on the front lawn of the Cheney Cowles Museum (in Browne’s Addition at 2316 W. First), begins its three-day run Friday at noon. Over the next 53 hours, here are a few of the things that fest-goers will have the opportunity to enjoy:
The juried artwork of 53 artists, from glassblowers to watercolorists, sculptors to jewelry-makers, calligraphers to potters.
Art demonstrations, which allow the non-artist to witness the process of creation from scratch to finished product.
The music of such acts as the Planet Lounge Orchestra, the Occasional String Band, Desafinado, Moko Jumbie, blues-jazz artist Lindell Reason and, in a special Saturday night show, Ranch Romance.
Food booths featuring the wares of such trendy restaurants as Azar’s, Fugazzi, Lindaman’s and the Cannon Street Grill.
A children’s area, featuring hands-on arts and crafts projects.
And perhaps here’s the best news: All of the above is offered absolutely free.
“I think it’s one of the finest family events in the city,” Freuen says. “It can be expensive if you want it to be, or it can be a wonderful family event that shouldn’t cost you anything except time.”
You have to excuse Freuen for gushing. After all, she co-founded ArtFest 10 years ago with Beth Sellars, the Cheney Cowles Museum’s former curator of art who left her long-held position in February. Sellars’ departure has made things rougher on Freuen for reasons both personal and professional.
“I’m missing Beth immensely,” she says.
But Freuen’s energies, not to mention Sellars’ legacy, certainly have paid off. The result, Freuen says, is this ArtFest might end up being the best ever.
Freuen estimates that about 50 percent of this year’s artists are new to the festival (the 53 who made it were pared down from 163 participants in the juried competition). “New faces,” she says, “keeps things interesting and lively.”
Still, there will be a continuing sense of the familiar in the shape of several 1994 award winners. These include woodworker John Dickinson, knife-maker Carl Dede, glassblower Steve Adams, watercolorist Mari Anne Figgins and photographer King Wu.
The melding of old and new, says Freuen, only benefits the fest-goer. Especially those interested in purchasing art.
“The overall quality of the slides of the artists who are juried gets better and better every year,” she says. “So the competition for the space that we are limited to because of the museum grounds becomes more and more difficult. And I think the accepted artists should always feel honored because it is a tough competition.”
If art were the only thing that ArtFest offered, it might still be a worthy family event. But thanks to music coordinator Dawn Holladay, the continuing musical performances help make the whole affair something special.
The featured act, Ranch Romance, played ArtFest two years ago. “And boy,” Freuen says, “you got there early if you wanted to find a place to sit.”
The Seattle band dubs its own music “regressive country,” which is a blunt way of describing its mix of rockabilly and western swing. Since its formation in 1988, the group has performed on National Public Radio with Garrison Keillor and in numerous music festivals nationwide. It performs Saturday at 6 p.m.
“In the first year, when the artists would apply, we’d ask them if they had requests for placement and they always said, ‘I don’t want to be near the music and I don’t want to be near the food,”’ says Freuen with a laugh. “And then, after they’ve been around for a year, they say, ‘Keep me away from the food and the children, but I want to be next to the music.’ That’s how well-liked the music is.”
As for how well-liked the art is, the figures give a good indication. In ArtFest’s first 10 years, the money raised - which goes to help fund the museum and the Spokane Art School - amounts to about $163,000.
“And then you add into that the economic impact that the artists have made, because they take 75 percent of their sales, I figure that ArtFest has impacted at least a million dollars in the 10 years that it has been in existence.”
That money has come in rain or shine, with wet days spoiling more than one festival past.
But, Freuen says, “It seems like it only gets hurt one day and then it gets relatively nice. And to be honest, you don’t want a really hot ArtFest and you don’t want a real cold one but kind of a 70-degree ArtFest with cloud cover.”
And, you’ll recall, no wind.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by A. Heitner
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ArtFest Art: One, two- and four-hour art demonstrations provide an overview of the range of artists in our region. The longer sessions allow the viewer to watch the artist’s creative process from the beginning stages to completion. Music: Performers will play pop, boogie, blues, jazz, folk, rock, country and more, with new musicians taking the stage every hour or so. Begins at noon Friday, and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s Beer Garden Concert features the western-swing and country of Ranch Romance from 6-8 p.m. See Friday’s Weekend magazine for a complete schedule of activities.
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