ArtFest eyes growth in move to summer, Mill Race Park

Columbus ArtFest is making two moves to boost attendance — switching to summer instead of fall and holding the art show at Mill Race Park instead of Washington and Fourth streets downtown.

Founder, local photographer and printmaking business owner Bob Anderson said several elements prompted the change to June 25 and 26 and a move to the venue that once annually hosted a Chautauqua of the Arts gathering and then the Lazy River Arts and Crafts Festival from the early 1990s until 2006.

“We can accommodate things at the park that we can’t on Washington Street,” Anderson said, adding that the park offered more space. “And a lot of artists prefer to have their booth on grass rather than blacktop.”

Plus, his September weekend last year competed with the well-established Penrod Arts Fair in Indianapolis that draws thousands, including people from the Columbus area. Also, the park will allow exhibitors to set up their wares on Friday evening rather than waiting until early Saturday just before the event opens.

“We still would like to grow ArtFest,” Anderson said.

He already has discussed event cross-promotion with organizers of the BBQ Blues & Brew Festival set June 25 along Washington Street.

“We believe it creates just another opportunity for people to come downtown,” said Steve Leach, one of the organizers of BBQ Blues & Brew.

Columbus ArtFest’s second annual Plein Air Paintout will be June 24 to 26, with area artists painting local scenes for awards, prize money and to sell their work at the gathering. Deadline for artists is May 31 at columbusartfest.com.

ArtFest began as a single-day event of art and live music in August 2010 along Washington Street, with nearly 100 artists displaying, and in some cases creating their work during the free event. Former Mayor Kristen Brown lauded the festival as being among an ideal kind of event she envisioned to draw people to the state’s designated downtown cultural district that she championed.

But August dates posed their own challenge.

“It was so blistering hot,” Anderson said.

One of the biggest draws at ArtFest for several years became Justin the Artistic Horse, something of a local and even global sensation, thanks to the Internet — and the fact that his work sells for as much as $1,500.

During his demonstrations, the 16-hand-high Friesian happily made broad, vertical, multicolored brushstrokes holding a brush in his mouth.

One other element that will change is that the Columbus Area Arts Council’s popular glass-blowing classes and demonstrations with Hoosier artist Lisa Pelo. Those had been staged on the perimeter of ArtFest for a few years.

But Karen Shrode, the arts council’s executive director, said the glass blowing will move to October to be part of Night of a Thousand Jacks, with Pelo teaching glass artists-to-be how to make glass jack-o-lanterns.

“We want to keep our event in the fall because it’s cooler then,” Shrode said.

Artfest by the numbers

3,000: Biggest crowd estimate, from 2012.

100: Biggest number of booths, in 2010

15: Number of artists in the Plein Air paintout, in 2015

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.