Art in the Heart of Augusta will have a decidedly Big Easy flair this year, with the headlining band, a prominent spoken word poet and a stilt walker all hailing from New Orleans.
It’s a fitting coincidence, since Arts in the Heart has always aimed to showcase Augusta’s diverse culture. After all, what city in the U.S. is historically more diverse than New Orleans, which has been the landing strip for everyone from the French to those from Africa and the Caribbean.
“It’s really a celebration of our community because we are so diverse and we do encompass so many different cultures and countries and types of art,” said Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant. “It seems to make more sense that we would go this way. And it’s interesting to me that we ended up with new Orleans, by accident, because I have really wanted to feature that kind of rising from the ashes, the power of art. And New Orleans especially was one of the cities that I was thinking of. The arts are a powerful tool for economic development and for education and for bringing a community back from the ground and for spreading the word. And, for us, in Augusta, it’s really bringing the community together for one weekend to kind of set a model for the rest of the year.”
This celebration of all countries and cultures is a bit of a departure from the first two decades of Arts in the Heart, in which the festival committee chose a different culture to focus on each year.
“We did a featured country or culture, but what we discovered was that is was misleading,” Durant said. “So we might have had a little more dance or performances from the featured group and we would advertise it as featured culture China, for instance, so some people would coming thinking they were coming to a Chinese festival or a German festival or an Irish festival.
Or maybe, she said, they wouldn’t come at all.
“The other thing that would happen is people would not come because they didn’t want to come to a German festival, an Irish festival or a whatever festival,” she explained. “So we found it was misleading because the entire festival was not focused on that culture.”
“There’s still plenty of culture, Durant assured festivalgoers, in this arts weekend.
“It’s still, to me, very much a cultural festival,” she said. “The food is from all over and, if you look at the stage schedule for the cultural stage, it’s one culture after another… boom, boom, boom… all day Saturday, all day Sunday. So definitely you get an international flair from being at Arts in the Heart, but it’s not just one. It really is what Augusta is made of, a little mini glimpse of our world.”
“The big, different thing is the expansion of the festival into the 700 block,” Durant said. “So for non-downtown oriented people that would be the Miller Theatre, Imperial Theatre block and that’s the whole family area. We’re putting the family stage in the central parking lot and then the hands-on children’s crafts will be there, the Young Artists Market will be there and that’s gotten very big, the Young Artists Market. The food area has also expanded, so there’s several global food vendors on that block as well.”
While the Global Village and the Fine Arts & Crafts Market have always been hubs of Arts in the Heart activities, it may well be that the family area will be the center of attention this year. The stilt walker, who will lead the Parade of Nations Friday night, will visit the area throughout the weekend.
“He will show up in the children’s area at scheduled times and lead a parade of kids,” she said. “We know we have a mask-making activity, we know we have face painting and we’re working with representatives from the Jessye Norman School, who might help deck the kids out a little bit at parade times, and he’ll lead a mini parade through the festival.”
The Augusta Swing Dance Club, who is performing on this year’s new Jazz Stage, will also wander the festival and break out in dance from time to time.
Sunni Patterson will be one of the many additions to the Troubadour Stage, and will bring some powerful spoken word about New Orleans, and the Revivalists out of the same city will perform on the Global Stage before heading to Sky City for another show later that night.
“We wanted to bring in traveling band that might have people who kind of like to travel a little bit to see them, love them at festivals, so we chose the Revivalists from New Orleans,” Durant said. “So they’ll be performing Saturday night on the global stage and then we partnered with Coco Rubio, so they’ll be doing a second show 11 o’clock at night at Sky City. It really allows people who don’t normally get to see bands like that because they can’t go into bars or don’t stay awake past 11 o’clock or for whatever reason to see that kind of energetic festival band. And we’ve gotten some good play from that booking and they do a lot of marketing and have a good Facebook presence.”
Every part of the festival, Durant said, has grown and changed. There are more and different food vendors, including from Sweden, Cyprus and Indonesia/Micronesia. The Arts Council is making a concerted effort to go green. And because of this year’s expansion into the 700 block, the arts council was also able to add more of the festival’s staple: the arts and crafts vendors.
“We kind of had a fruit basket turnover this year,” said Sallie West, the arts council’s director of outreach. “We had 215 applicants, we accepted 125 and a hundred of those had never applied to Arts in the Heart. There are a lot of new people.”
And that includes a mix of local and regional artists.
“We’re really proud of the way we worked on jurying,” Durant said. “Certainly we’ve tried to embrace local artists as much as we can. It’s very important for us to have the local representation on the festival site, but it’s exciting for us to see the artists from outside of Augusta who have heard of the festival through its awards or just from sitting at a booth next to someone at a regional festival and them saying, ‘Have you been to Arts in the Heart yet? Have you been to Augusta? You’ve got to come.’”
Arts in the Heart of Augusta
Augusta Common and Broad Street
Friday, September 19, 5-9 p.m.
Saturday, September 20, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, September 21, noon-7 p.m.
$5; $10, at the gate; free, kids under 10