Sunday, July 10, 2016

FestivALL: Celebrating the Arts in WV

For a small town (pop. just under 50,000), ours is one that celebrates in a bigger city style. Each year since 2004, FestivALL, a non-profit organization in our town, has been collaborating with many different artists in many different art genres - music, dance, visual art, theater, humanities and more - to bring arts to our community in Charleston, WV. It is a wonderfully anticipated event each year in June, consisting of more than 10 days of highly coordinated events throughout the city, some of which are self-produced, some co-produced, and others presented by FestivALL. Its tagline is "FestivALL: A City Becomes a Work of Art".

This year's FestivALL June events were kicked off with a preview day on Memorial weekend, coordinated with our town's Live on the Levee summer music concert series on the Kanawha River levee.
The 2016 FestivALL kickoff preview event was a food fete called Taste-of-All. It features various local restaurants, which serve a number of items in a tapas (snack) style. Tickets are sold for 50¢ each, and food items offered by the restaurants cost anywhere from 1 to a max of 6 tickets. Vendors were set up inside the Sheraton Four Points, but patrons could move freely from indoors to outside, where a DJ was spinning tunes on the levee.
In addition to the preview Taste-of-All with DJ, there was plenty of other food and music throughout the 10 day June FestivALL event also. The two biggest weekend events include Blues, Brews & BBQ, followed by Wine & All That Jazz.

All throughout the FestivALL, there are riverboat cruises to not only cruise up and down the river at various times of the days leisurely, but to also transport patrons back and forth from the downtown venues to the riverfront campus of the local University, where the weekend music festivals are held. This year's devastating flash flooding in WV had the riverboat taxi necessarily canceled on June 23, and the riverboat barely made it out of town in time to avoid grave danger. The river was simply too high for any kind of boat, pleasure or purpose (barges included).
The one event I look forward to most each year is the Capitol Street Art Fair. The FestivALL leaders had to make some hard and fast decisions this year in light of the #WVFloods, but decided to move forward with scheduled events (other than the riverboat cruises). In teaming up with the American Red Cross, FestivALL was able to help raise funds for flood victims at all the major event venues.
The Capitol Street Art Fair encompasses more than five blocks full of tents and stages, with activities for all ages. There is a kids' art station with various shows in one block, dancing and music stages set up in the remaining blocks, along with more than 100 local artisans' wares for sale.
I absolutely love artisan-made wares! I have, over the years, tried to support artists, and buying their wares is just one way of doing this. During the last two years, the collage below includes many of the items I've purchased.
Clockwise, starting top L: Coordinated tote, crossbody and wristlet; 2 original watercolor prints, 3 fabric-corded baskets, another coordinated tote and wristlet, and natural stone/sterling bracelet and pendant.

Additionally, I have a strong connection to my friend's business, Anna's China Jewelry, and have bought several of her pendants over the years (see below). I wrote about her in more detail here.
This year, a few artists created banners that were sold via auction on eBay, and I won the one I loved the most. It's approximately 24" x 36", and it's a collage of mixed textiles, some vintage and some new.
The details and assembly are wonderful to me!

Performers abound during FestivALL, some of whom are mainstays to the events, others brought in by special arrangement. The collage below shows the FestivALL Princess and a couple of professional clowns, both mainstays, The top right corner, however, pictures me with a very special guest in 2013, our state's sesquicentennial year of statehood. It is David Selby, a West Virginia native, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln in a theater performance celebrating West Virginia's 1863 statehood, during the Civil War. Most of us in the fifty-something bracket remember David Selby as none other than Quentin Collins from the daytime television gothic drama, Dark Shadows! I was pretty much starstruck with meeting him backstage. :0
Another really quirky artistic display during FestivALL happens in our Town Center Mall. We have a balloon artist by the name of Dizzy Doc, and he creates a themed, balloon sculpture each year during FestivALL, and it remains on display in center court of the mall. Below is a collage of two of his notable sculptures from 2016 (left), a riverboat, complete with people, and (R), a whitewater rafting scene, typical of West Virginia's adventurous rivers and tourism offerings. That detail!
And lastly, another event Mr. P. and I really enjoy is the Sunrise Carriage Trail walk event. It happens each Sunday of the FestivALL event, and features an historic mile-long walk trail through treetops and woodlands, just on the edge of one of our hillside neighborhoods. The trail, during FestivALL, features stations with music, live theater and musical art easels.
Of course, none of this would be possible without strong leadership and a host of volunteers and sponsors. FestivALL was the brainchild of Larry Groce, who served as Executive Director for more than 10 years (as well as Executive Producer for Mountain Stage for more than 30 years), backed by our current mayor, Danny Jones, and a volunteer Board of Directors. Volunteer staff work year-round to plan and execute details of this 10-day event, as well as FestivFALL, an abbreviated version held in October each year. In 2015, my daughter was named Executive Director of FestivALL as part of a succession plan to Larry Groce's retirement. She heads the team that produces this event.
Various photos of FestivALL Director, Former Director, City Mayor, and FestivALL staff and Volunteers.
Although quick to give credit to the entire team of volunteers who help with this arts event, there's no denying she has taken the role of leader very seriously, and has already demonstrated - very well, I might add - that she loves her job and her work. Prior to taking the role of Director, she began as an intern in 2012 as part of her MFA studies while at Florida State University. Her responsibilities grew each year thereafter, until she took the role of Director in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

If you are ever in Charleston, West Virginia in the month of June or October, I would highly recommend you check out the FestivALL website and look into participating in this well-orchestrated celebration of the arts. If you've ever participated in our town's FestivALL, I'd love to hear from you, and what you enjoyed, or what you think stands to be improved.

Does your city celebrate the arts in a big or small way? Are the arts important to you? Do you think they should remain an integral part of our education system? Your opinion matters!

Rita C. at Panoply

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