The largest fine arts festival in Southwest Missouri, Artsfest on Walnut Street, will mark 38 years of supporting artists and art enthusiasts in the Ozarks when the Walnut Street Historic District will be filled to capacity with visual and performing artists—not to mention more than 20,000 art lovers—on May 5th and 6th. Applications for artists, nonprofits and performers are now open for this year’s Artsfest, and the Springfield Regional Arts Council is in the middle of the big push toward the deadline, Tuesday February 20. Last year they received around 200 applications for the juried process, and had 140 visual artists represented in booths along Walnut Street.
The Arts Council’s Marketing and Development Coordinator, Brett Johnston, appeared on “Arts News” to give area artists a singular message: “Artists, come on and apply! We want to hear from as many artists locally and regionally as possible, and really step up the game. We’re excited about it, man—one of my favorite weekends of the year.” The Arts Council would like to reach a total of 250 visual-artist applicants for this year’s Artsfest; as of airtime this morning the number sat at around 140.
Last year was also the first time Artsfest had a completely full roster of performing artists for the festival’s numerous performance stages. “Yes, we had more than 80 performances, and it was even to the point where we had to get creative. We had a couple of ‘roving’ musicians for whom we found places around the street.” So why are they seeking even MORE applicants? Says Brett Johnston, “If there’s a larger pool to choose from, then it just increases the quality of the festival.”
Johnston feels confident they’ll reach their ambitious goals for this year’s Artsfest, because they always experience a big last-minute surge in applications in the last couple of days before the deadline. Well, the deadline is fast approaching: Tuesday, February 20 at 5:00pm. And of course, they’re also looking for food vendors, a very important part of the festival every year.
For the general public, Artsfest is tweaking the festival’s “footprint” along Walnut Street, says Johnston. “There was a lovely green space near Kentwood Hall that we used for a live music stage. Just weeks after last year’s event, that space became a parking lot. And it seemed like it stretched it just a little bit too far: if you wanted to walk from National (Avenue) to the live-music stage at the other end, it was really quite a hike. So we’re bringing that in just a little bit, compressing that: the live-music stage is actually going to be on John Q. Hammons (Parkway). It’ll still be an entrance, but there will be something there. And then we’re adding a smaller, more intimate live-performance stage right at the west end there. We hope it makes it a little more walkable.
“Also, keeping the artists in mind—that’s been a big push for the committee putting it together this year: how do we enhance the experience of those visual artists? Because at the end of it, that’s really what everyone is there for.” So for 2018 they’re adding a free artist hospitality house.”
Artsfest has always tried to make the application process an easy one. “I think a lot of artists perhaps look at a festival like this and think that the process is going to be overwhelming. There’s a registration fee; you’ve got to register online. But the actual process, we try to make it as easy as possible for everybody. And I feel like this year especially, enhancing the on premise experience for artists... don’t be scared of it. I think that a lot of people may be intimidated, because there’s a jury process, that they may not have a good chance. But I would just encourage all of those artists who are out there working—especially the ones who are trying to work professionally as an artist—to take an opportunity like this and at least try. Put yourself out there, you know? Believe in your work. We’d love to see it and put it on Walnut Street.”
Even three months out Brett Johnston can barely contain his excitement. “I just get the chills thinking about Artsfest, because you get 20,000 of your closest friends out there to celebrate the things that enrich our lives. Getting caught up in the day-to-day, a lot of people sometimes take for granted what the arts have done for them and what they’ve done for the community as a whole.”
Artists, performers and vendors interesting in applying can visit www.springfieldarts.org/artsfest or call the Arts Council at 862-2787.