The streets of downtown will close again this year for a welcome visitor: the Omaha Summer Arts Festival.
Executive director Vic Gutman has been with the festival since the very beginning; he started it in 1975. It was held in the Old Market during a time that downtown Omaha was in a decline. He said he wanted to show how vibrant the area could be and knew that diverse activities would bring people to the area.
“There is a primal urge to gather in a space that belongs to everyone,” Gutman said.
Omaha didn't have anything like the Summer Arts Festival at the time. Gutman said there were smaller art fairs dedicated to the visual arts, but nothing was as expansive as Summer Arts Festival would soon become.
Some years have been harder than others for the Summer Arts Festival. On a Friday afternoon five years ago, a storm with straight-line winds tore apart the festival. Gutman said it was absolute destruction. But no one was injured, and the festival reopened the next day as if nothing had happened.
Now Gutman and his team of volunteers and staff ready the festival for its 39th year. Even those who have been to the festival every year will be sure to find something new.
This year's artists' market features 135 artists, selected from more than 400 applicants. Artists were chosen from 26 different states; eight artists are from Nebraska. There's a little something for everyone: photography, sculpture, mixed media, 3-D art and more will be present.
Illinois-based artist Alison Fox has been a part of the Summer Arts Festival for more than five years. She spends much of the year showcasing her stained glass work at various art fairs and festivals around the midwest and said she can't wait to go to the Summer Arts Festival every year because it's “the best run ever.” She said she arrives a day early because she loves downtown Omaha so much.
Summer Arts Festival manager Elizabeth Balazs said this year is especially exciting because the festival has lots of opportunities for people to get involved in the art.
Inspired festival attendees can help make a work of art all their own. The Apollon will host a community art project that will allow festival visitors to contribute to themed panels. After they're done, visual artists will develop the panels further, and they will be hung in The Apollon gallery after the festival.
For those who want to get more insight into the artist's process, the Summer Arts Festival's ArtSeen demonstrations will let them watch artists at work, including live glass and copper work. A series of artists will be forging steel into a variety of tools and shapes.
Young artists have an opportunity to get in on the action, too. The artwork of more than 300 students in grades six through 12 will be on display at the W. Dale Clark Main Library as part of the 18th annual Young Artist Exhibition. Students will also show off their pottery-making skills live on the corner of 14th and Farnam Streets.
The MarchFourth Marching Band will join the fun on Farnam Street on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. The Portland-based nontraditional marching band will take its motley crew of 20 plus performers on a four-block journey, complete with dancers and a seven-part brass section.
Balazs said the festival's music is unique but very accessible.
“One of the things we've enjoyed over the years is to be able to introduce people to music they haven't heard before, and they fall in love with it,” Balazs said.
Summer Arts Festival's music lineup represents all kinds of genres, including Afro-fusion, classic jazz, roots, Cajun, Latin and more. Louis Prima Jr., the son of jazz superstar Louis Prima, will hit the stage Saturday night with his band The Witnesses, featuring Sarah Spiegel.
The 39th Annual Omaha Summer Arts Festival will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 10th and 15th Streets on Farnam. For more information, visit www.summerarts.org.
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