Visitors to the 43rd annual St. Anthony Park Arts Festival on Saturday, June 2, will notice a few changes. More art and fewer trinkets might be the easiest way to sum it up.
“No more soap,” said professional potter Ken Chin-Purcell, president of the St. Anthony Park Library Association, which sponsors the event. No more geese or “bottoms-up” yard ornaments, noted organizer Rose Gregoire.
“No more baby-shower centerpieces made of clean diapers,” said publicity chair Arlene West, who added that these particular pieces “looked like wedding cakes. There are lots of fun hobbies out there,” but not all are destined for the Arts Festival. “We’re going to run it more like other, better-known art fairs,” she said.
The idea is to put the longtime neighborhood fair on a more professional footing by offering great art and attracting more visitors from outside St. Anthony Park.
One step toward that goal was to drop the traditional rolling jury process in favor of identity-blind judging by well-known artists to determine which applicants were chosen for the festival’s available art slots. That means that some artists who have been part of the arts festival for years did not make it into the fair this year.
Since its start in 1969, the Arts Festival has been the major annual fundraising project of the Library Association. This year, Chin-Purcell saw a potential way to increase revenue for the project, as well as give a boost to the artistic stature of the undertaking, by inviting four featured artists to take part. Potter Bob Briscoe, sculptor Marcia McEachron, painter and sculptor Dan Mackerman and glass artist Craig Campbell are all acknowledged masters in their fields.
Mackerman, of Lauderdale, has modeled hundreds of figures for the iconic Dayton’s/Macy’s downtown Christmas displays. He’s also a painter whose work is on display at the Como HealthPartners Clinic among many other venues. Visitors to the Episcopal Homes on University Avenue will recognize McEachron as the creator of “Out of the Woods,” the larger-than-life metal leaves that decorate the corner of Fairview and University avenues.
When asked how the association chose these four, Chin-Purcell responded, “They chose us.” Chin-Purcell has known Briscoe and his work for many years. When he approached St. Croix-based potter, Chin-Purcell explained, “We want to make this a high-quality, one-day art fair.” Intrigued, Briscoe signed on as a “featured artist” and brought glass-blower Craig Campbell aboard. The affiliation of such well-known figures persuaded other artists to consider applying for the show.
“The featured artists have attracted a whole new group of high-quality artists to apply,” says Gregoire. She estimates that this year’s festival will attract about 75 “higher-quality” artists, but the eventual goal is to build up to about 100 participants.
The four featured artists, along with artists Jan Sedgewick and Emily Chesick, juried the rest of the art competitors. Applicants paid a $15 jury fee to cover costs for the new online application system and to pay the jurors a stipend (jurors were paid $80 each for their work). Thanks to the Boss Foundation for the Arts, there is an additional incentive for participants. This year, the Boss family has donated funds to cover a $400 Best in Show prize, plus three merit awards of $200 each.
Another source of aid comes from Andersen Windows, which is now providing a grant to help market the event beyond the immediate neighborhood. The planning committee is also launching a social media effort on Twitter and Facebook to publicize the festival.
One welcome addition to the festival’s website will be parking directions for those who come from outside the neighborhood to visit the festival. “This year, Murray Junior High School [on Buford Avenue] and the St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church [at the intersection of Hillside and Como] will allow festival visitors to use their parking lots,” Gregoire said.
What won’t change about the festival is the traditional mix of food booths, family fun attractions (including the ever-popular Water Wars) and the St. Anthony Park Library’s annual used book sale. Traditionally, the festival raises several thousand dollars a year to support programs at the library. Much of the money goes to expanding the Summer Reading Program, the library’s weekly roster of activities designed to keep grade-school children involved with books and reading during school vacation.
“We almost double the summer reading program allocation [of funds],” said Gregoire, noting that the summer program attracts “kids from five or six ZIP codes” and helps counter “the huge drop-off in reading skills” that can affect children during long summers spent away from the classroom.
Visitors with long memories will realize that this isn’t the first time that change has come to the Arts Festival. According to West, in the early days the event, which was originally known as the Arts and Craft Festival and Boutique, featured volunteers “dressed in Victorian costumes.” Maybe dressing up as Victorian ladies made it easier for the organizers to circulate at the end of the day to collect a percentage of the profits from the artists. Sometime during the 1970s, the costumes were dropped and the financial arrangements of the festival changed to the present system of charging artists a flat, up-front fee.
A few years ago, the festival expanded from its traditional base on the library lawn when Luther Seminary began making part of its front lawn available for additional booths.
Chin-Purcell calls the present event a work-in-progress: “It takes years to create a great one-day art show. This is early days, and it’s exciting.”
Added Gregoire: “This is a great community event for a great community institution.”
You can find out more about the Arts Festival at www.stanthonyparkartsfestival.org.
Judy Woodward is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library and a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.