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VOL. 131 | NO. 211 | Friday, October 21, 2016

Impact of Three-Day RiverArtsFest Felt Year-Round

BY MICHAEL WADDELL, Special to The Daily News

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RiverArtsFest is gearing up for its 10th annual fine arts festival this weekend Downtown in the South Main Arts District, where more than 20,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event.

More than 20,000 people are expected to attend the three-day RiverArtsFest.

(Courtesy of RiverArtsFest)

Launched in 1989 as Arts in the Park in Overton Park before relocating to the Memphis Botanic Garden in 1992, the fest was revitalized in 2007 as RiverArtsFest and moved to its present location.

“The festival’s really been successful and has grown each year,” said Lee Askew, RiverArtsFest festival director and partner/co-founder of ANF Architects

Sixteen local artists specializing in an assortment of mediums will be on hand to create and sell their art as part of Artists at Work series on St. Paul.

Entertainment this year will include 40 musical acts on three stages, along with activities for all ages, artists at work as well as food and beverages.

And nearly 200 juried artists from nationwide will be on hand in the Artists Market to show off their creations, including blown glass, paintings, photography, assemblages, sculptures, metal works, pottery, jewelry, and more.

“We received 425 applications this year, and the juried artists are the best of the bunch,” said Bonnie Thornton, head of the fest’s Artists Market and a retired nurse. “Artists really love visiting our city because we are different and they enjoy the hospitality.”

Admission is free on Friday night and there is a $5 fee on Saturday and Sunday. Children under 12 get in free.

But while the festival itself is only three days in October, the RAF is focused on investing in the Memphis community year-round with a variety of educational programs for local children and youth.

“From the beginning, the emphasis has been on trying to further the arts, trying to get our Memphians and our regional citizens to appreciate art more, to better understand what art’s about, and to bring art into their homes by buying a piece,” Askew said.

Throughout the year, RiverArtsFest organizes and promotes the visual and performing arts through education initiatives like art scholarships, its special resources fund to provide opportunities for children and youth in the visual arts, and “Art in the Making” consisting of master classes and workshops led by a variety of accomplished artists.

Students from LeMoyne-Owen College, Rhodes College, Memphis College of Art, University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University receive support for pursuing degrees at both the BFA and MFA levels.

Since 2014, RiverArtsFest has awarded more than $30,000 in scholarships.

The “Art in the Making” program provides more than 1,600 students from Shelby County Schools and the municipal school districts with the chance to experience artist master classes and workshops led by artists like George Hunt, Dolph Smith, Jimpsie Ayres, Chuck Johnson, Katey Henriksen, Terry Lynn and Obayana Ajanaku, at no cost to the schools or the students.

The classes actively encourage the creation of art through observation, interaction, questioning and experimentation and often include "teach the teacher" sessions as well.

“By working with professional artists of the highest quality, the students involved truly learn higher-order thinking skills and problem solving,” said Angela Less, a grants consultant who is on the RiverArtsFest steering committee. “You see a child’s eyes light up when someone like ceramics artist Michael Terra is helping them create a ceramic bowl that will be part of St. John’s United Methodist Empty Bowl Project and they understand it’s benefitting someone else.”

The artists also partner with teachers to give insight into special techniques, materials or equipment, such as working with a kiln for ceramics.

This year the program is partnering with Rozelle CAPA Elementary, Evans Elementary, Bruce Elementary, Cherokee Elementary, Colonial Middle School, Overton High School, Whitehaven High School and Arlington High School, with plans for expansion into additional schools this year.

For the straight second year, RiverArtsFest is awarding $7,500 through individual grants of up to $500 to support creative visual arts projects at various schools and nonprofit organizations in Shelby County.

The special resources fund has supported projects such as:

•Collaborative activities with award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson at the Purple House and Carpenter Art Garden;

•The design and creation of an Art Gallery Story Wall with Richard Lou, chair of the University of Memphis art department, at Rozelle CAPA Elementary;

•Art in the CLOUD, instructional art sessions for teens 13 to 18 years old at the Main Library;

•Dia de los Muertos celebratory art exhibit during National Hispanic Heritage Month at Belle Forest Community Elementary School;

•and Arlington High School's purchase of a set of 35 self-portrait mirrors for the use of students drawing and painting from direct observation.

RiverArtsFest also gives out 3,000 free festival tickets to the schools participating in Art in the Making as a way of encouraging children and their families to experience how art is created and celebrated, and the group provides support of arts-related activities throughout the year at Stax Academy of Music, Levitt Shell and Memphis College of Art.

“With these year-round educational programs, the impact on the community extends beyond just the three days of the festival,” Less said. “The programs are all designed so that children and youth of all abilities can participate.”

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