Arts in the Heart of Augusta is three weeks away
by Amy Christian
In less than a month, when tens of thousands gather downtown for Arts in the Heart of Augusta, what they’ll see are a hundred tents in the fine arts and crafts area along Broad Street and the dozens of countries, along with their delicious food, represented in the Global Village. They make take their kids to create crafts in the children’s area, see and hear some great entertainment on one of the many stages or even relax with a beer.
And while they may notice a golf cart zooming around from time to time or a harried looking person speed walking with muttering into a walkie talkie, most likely these visitors won’t truly grasp what goes on behind the scenes to bring this yearly festival to fruition.
“I know that it used to be a small festival with a few food booths and a street dance on Friday night and a few artists,” said Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant on the festival’s origins 32 years ago, when it was held at the municipal building. “It was just kind of a small community festival and not many artists came from outside the community.”
Durant, who has been with the arts council since 1997, said that small community festival atmosphere changed drastically when Arts in the Heart moved to the river. Local artists gave way to artists and artisans who travel the region, and sometimes the country, going from craft show to craft show.
“My biggest push in the late ‘90s was to get local artists to participate because it is a different lifestyle,” she said of the difference between showing work in a gallery and participating in festivals. “When we’d do the surveys of people who came to the festival we’d always hear that we didn’t have enough local artists. One year we set up two tents for local artists to exhibit their work in and we gave a tent to Artists Row. Now we have about 20 local artists who participate happily each year.”
And considering this year’s fine arts and crafts area contains approximately a hundred tents, that’s not bad.
The numbers of artists aren’t the only ones that are rising. Arts in the Heart may have started as a small community festival, but last year the Greater Augusta Arts Council estimates the number of those who visited the event at between 50,000 and 70,000. For a festival with that kind of attendance, not to mention as many components to the festival as Arts in the Heart has, planning never really stops, Durant says.
“Internally, we work on it almost all year round,” she said. “We do a wrap up meeting with the committee and I take notes on things we need to do differently the next year. So we meet in October, take November and December off and the committee starts meeting again in January.”
During those two off months for the committee, Durant and council employees work with the city on maintaining permission to close streets, develop a marketing strategy for the next year and she and Global Village Committee Chair Gary Tom decide on the next year’s featured country (this year it’s Germany) and sometimes meet with those interested in joining the village.
This year, for instance, attendees with have more difficult choices when it comes to food, since Turkey, Spain and Laos have all joined.
Once the committee begins meeting each year, representatives of each of the 33 subcommittees come together once a month to keep the ball rolling. Some committees don’t have much to do before the actual festival, Durant says. Others, like the logistics committee, don’t ever seem to stop working.
It sounds overwhelming, but Durant credits the arts council’s staff, as well as volunteers like Tom, festival Chair Saundra Plunkett and logistics chairs John Lovin, Mike Sleeper and Trey Enfinger, for keeping the festival on track.
“We do have a strong volunteer team, but we’re all list makers,” she said. “I have a pad on my desk of things that need to be done and I love crossing things out.”
Then there are the volunteers who work the weekend of the festival.
“We think we’re over 800 volunteers now, and that doesn’t count the children’s area, where each organization brings their own volunteers, or the global village, who have people from each organization cooking,” she said. “But it’s large.”
In the end, however, it all comes together sort of like that old adage about the duck: he looks perfectly calm gliding across the water, but you should see how hard his feet are working underneath.
“It’s major, but we always get it done,” Durant said. “Somehow that festival always looks great that third weekend in September.”
Arts in the Heart of Augusta
Broad Street, the Augusta Common and surrounding areas
Friday, September 14, 5-9 p.m.
Saturday, September 15, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, September 16, noon-7 p.m.
Weekend badges: $5, advance; $7, gate
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