A few days before Hurricane Irma brought tropical weather to the Augusta area, Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival organizers were wary of what effects it might have on their festival, held the weekend after. The tropical storm blew through on Sept. 11, and the festival took place Sept. 15 through Sept. 17.
But thankfully, the weather cleared up a few days before, and despite losing a day of work to the storm, organizers, volunteers and other festival workers came together to put on a bigger, more successful festival in its 37th year.
Along with the help of many others, the Greater Augusta Arts Council organizes the festival every year. The Art Council’s Executive Director Brenda Durant and Project Manager Pax Bobrow were exceedingly pleased with how the weekend turned out. Arts Council estimates put attendance between 88,000 and 90,000 this year; last year, it was estimated that upwards of 88,000 people showed up.
“I don’t know that there’s enough new adjectives for me, but I thought it was wonderful, amazingly wonderful,” said Durant, who has been a part of Arts in the Heart for more than 20 years. “I thought it had a great feel to it. I thought it was smooth — we’re learning efficiencies (as each year goes on), and that shows. The community turned out. I thought it was just amazing, great. It was a happy weekend.”
Art vendors at the festival couldn’t stop praising festival organizers, and especially Bobrow, who they said did everything she could to meet their needs throughout the weekend.
Artist Amy Thompson was one of those artists. She and her husband, Mark, from Englewood, Ohio, create works of art infusing wood with stained glass. The Thompsons have done other shows and festivals, but this was their first time at Arts in the Heart, and even in Augusta.
“The show was just well-done. Pax was hands-on; I mean, she was all over the place, very helpful. Everybody on the staff was great,” Amy Thompson said. “If you do a lot of shows as artists, there’s other promoters out there, and (the Arts in the Heart staff) put them to shame; they did a good job.”
Although Thompson stayed in her booth most of the time, she was able to get out and see some of the numerous performers who were set up on the five stages throughout the festival.
“I saw some of the entertainment, but we weren’t able to try any of the food,” Amy Thompson said. “But if we come back, we really want to, because it all looks amazing. I’ve never personally been to a show or festival where that type of set-up with all of the food. That was just so overwhelming to see all of that in one area, in one show.
“We thought that the festival was extremely well-run, all the aspects of it. The food, the entertainment, very family-oriented and friendly and you just couldn’t ask for a better festival, really,” she added.
Amy Thompson was pleased with how well their art did at the show, too. (It can be viewed online at glassandwoodworks.com.) She said it ended up being their second-best show of the year, as far as sales go.
“Our biggest sell of the show wasn’t even for sale,” Amy Thompson said. “A local doctor came in with his wife, and he and some partners of his are going to open up a restaurant locally, and they fell in love with our podium, and they wanted to buy it. And I said, ‘You know, it’s really not for sale,” but he kept talking to me, and we ended up selling it for a large amount of money. And just the thought of it being in a restaurant locally front and center (was exciting) so we said, ‘You know what, it’s a legacy for us, go ahead and take it.’ So we sold the podium, and we sold quite a bit of other things, too. So it was a really good show for us.”
Amy Thompson and her husband drove about 11 hours to get to the show. With her husband still working in the corporate world, they spend pretty much all of his vacation time doing art shows, about 16 to 18 a year. They’re hoping to be back at Arts in the Heart next year.
Another artist who was new to being represented at the festival (but not new to the festival itself, as she lives in Aiken) was Cindy Pearce. She weaves wire around stones to create one-of-a-kind jewelry. (See her work online at underwrapsjewelry.com.) Pearce described the experience of selling at Arts in the Heart as “overwhelmingly positive.”
“I have been in art shows before, but not one of this magnitude, and I think I was so surprised at how positive and wonderful the people were,” Pearce said. “They were all just so complimentary, and they were warm and welcoming, and I was just overwhelmed by all the wonderful things people were saying and how they just lit up and talked to me. I had the best time — it was just a very, very positive experience all the way around.
“I mean, it was long hours, let me tell you. It was hot and it was long hours. But the time just seemed to go by so quickly because you just had people of all age groups, little kids, teenagers and 20-somethings all the way up to 60- and 70-year-olds. And they were all coming through the booth, all different — international people, it was just all races, all ethnicities, it was wonderful. And my jewelry just seemed to hit with all of them.”
Pearce also described the collaboration that can take place between the artists there.
“I got a hold of one of the people I had seen at another show, and she has fabulous lampwork beads that I had used in my work before, and I didn’t bring it because I didn’t want to compete with her,” Pearce said. “And after she came over to my booth — and artists are this way — after she came over to my booth, she said ‘Look, your work is so different from my work, I wouldn’t mind at all if you used my beads in your work.’ And I said ‘Well, I’ll give you credit for your beads, and we can do this thing together,’ and I’ve decided I’ll use her beads in my work and will just tell people where her beads came from. So it was great to be able to work with another artist, too, and use some of her product in my work.”
The other artist’s name Is Tammy Rudd, and her booth was just down the block from Pearce’s.
“This was my first outdoor show, so it was interesting getting the tent up and learning how to put lights up,” Pearce continued. “The people beside me were very nice and gave me some pointers, and I found that the other people were very generous with their time and their tents and things like that, so that was a real plus, too. There’s a great sense of community in between the different artists that are there.”
Pearce said she thanks the Arts Council “for hosting a wonderful show, and I appreciate all their hard work. Because you know, that is a really big thing to put on.”
“It was really great that we got to expand the fine arts and crafts market,” Bobrow said. “We had more artists than we have ever had before; we had 153 this year (up from about 120 last year). And even though Hurricane Irma caused a few of our artists to have to cancel at the last minute, we had a bunch of people on our wait list who were just dying to get in, and they took their places. We expanded onto the sidewalk of the 800 block. … it was packed — and the artists did well. I’ve gotten feedback from about 25 artists so far, and they’ve all told me it was fantastic and one of the best festivals they do all year.””
Every year, the Arts in the Heart of Augusta Fine Arts and Crafts Market gives out awards to artists there. Bobrow said that with the festival growing, they are going to increase the number of judges next year, rather than having one judge.
“We’re going to have three judges, one to judge the three-dimensional artwork, one to judge two-dimensional artwork and then one to judge the jewelry and clothing and accessories,” Bobrow said.
The award winners in the arts and crafts market this year were:
1st place — Lisa Mote, glass, Booth 930 (“I create large, wall-mounted sculptural glass art utilizing bold colors and textures that excite and energize the viewer”; lisamote.com)
2nd place — Caleb Barnaby, jewelry, Booth 842 (“Wearable art jewelry with an intricate hand-etching process, comprised of upcycled objects, such as bullet casings and antique clock parts”; steampunksmuggler.com)
3rd place — Alexander Brown, Wood, Booth 917 (“I take a single block of wood [like marble] and hand carve sculptures. I love the purity and discipline needed to create work this way”; alexandersculptures.com)
Robin Rodgers, clay, Booth 909 (“My pottery combines my love of archaeology, nature, and world cultures with a native, contemporary interpretation”; search Robin Rodgers Pottery on Facebook)
Marirosa Hofmann, mixed media, Booth 811 (“I am known for my layered, abstract backgrounds. The overlapping patterns and colors add depth and movement to my mixed-media paintings”; search Marirosa A. Hofmann Fine Art on Facebook)
Christopher Doherty, photography, Booth 828 (“I travel the globe to bring the underwater world to people to see its beautiful wonders and animals”; dohertyphotography.com)
Congratulations to the winners, and to all the artists and performers who showed up with their wonderful talents!
There is no doubt about it, one of the best parts of the festival is the food from around the world.
Within a few blocks of downtown, Augustans can sample authentic ethnic food from more than 20 countries that is all cooked by volunteers of local ethnic associations.
This year, there were 24 countries represented in the Augusta Common, including three new booths for Cambodia, South Sudan and Vietnam.
Those attending the festival could sample food from all over the world including Cyprus, Germany, Ireland, Korea, Lebanon, Nigeria and the Philippines.
And these tents representing different countries know how to honor their nations.
Over at the Cambodia tent, guests could try a variety of appetizers including Bok L’hong, which is a Khmer green papaya salad; Chai Yor or Naem Chien, a Khmer spring roll; or a combination of fried tofu, fried taro and fried sweet potato.
At the Germany tent were classics such as schnitzel, bratwurst, schashlik or a salted pretzel with beer cheese.
A tent that is always a crowd pleaser is Greece with its gyros, chicken souvlaki, Greek-style chicken wings and delicious Greek feta fries.
Augustans will wait in line for an hour for those incredible Greek feta fries. And don’t forget the baklava pastries for dessert.
One tent that is really beginning to make quite a name for itself is Guam. This year, the Guam tent offered a Chamorro Fiesta Plate that included hineksa (cooked white rice), tininon monnok (barbecue chicken), monnok kadon peka (a spicy chicken) and lumpia (wrapped vegetables and beef deep fried). They should rename it “a fiesta in your mouth” plate.
The India tent always attracts a big crowd because they provide an incredible meal that is entirely vegetarian and can be made vegan upon request.
Guests are wise to choose the maharajah platter, which offers Indian bread called naan, rice, lightly spiced mixed vegetable curry, chickpeas in curry, vegetable fritters and a dessert. Or visitors can get a plate called Mysore Masala Dosa, which includes an Indian pancake or rice crepe filled with spiced potatoes and vegetables served with lentil soup, coconut chutney and choice of fried or steams dumpling. But guests cannot leave the India tent without devouring a samosa with chutney for only $1. If you’re wise, you’ll order the samosas special that provides people with 11 samosas for just $10.
Another tent that always wakes up your taste buds is the Jamaica tent, which offers rice and peas, fried plantains and Caribbean salad with each of their entrees.
And, of course, who can resist the Ireland tent with its fish and chips, bangers and mash, corned beef sandwiches and Irish whiskey cake.
While these were some of the crowd favorites this year, Arts in the Heart judges also award winners each year at the Global Village for different categories of food.
The 2017 Global Village Winners were as followed:
Best Entree — Jamaica
Best Dessert — Turkey, baklava
Best Food Presentation — Cyprus
Best Booth and Presentation — India
Best Side Dish — Philippines
Best Plate — Trinidad
Judges Award: Best Drink — Vietnam — Thai Tea Boba
Judges Award: Best Team Spirit — Guam
Congratulations to all the winners of the 2017 Global Village and thank you to each of the international tents. The food was out of this world!
Looking back, looking forward
The Arts Council is constantly evaluating the festival, even as it’s going on, to try to perfect it. Durant said one of the biggest successes this year was making the entrances to the festival smoother than ever.
“I would say we got better at managing our gates; we really worked at that this year, we had meetings with the finance team that mans the gates, with CitySpin, who does the online sales and then over the weekend does the credit card sales and the redemption of the online tickets at the gates,” Durant said. “And then the banner and sign team, we all got together and worked on how to label the gates, how to set up the gates, we added a second gate at our busiest area, which is 10th and Broad.
“So there just wasn’t a real clog at the gates,” she continued, “which made us feel like no one was coming, and we were like, “Ah! How come there’s no line?” and then we realized that we were just doing it better. And we noticed the same differences in some of the food booths. They set up different lines; they made it clear where to enter, some had just a drinks-only line for people who already have their food and just want to grab something cold. So I think we all are working at a kind of smoother, more efficient, keeping the lines down. Not that there weren’t any lines, because some of the food booths are always going to have a line. But not like stretched the length of the commons kind of line, that’s what we tried to avoid.”
Durant said that looking forward, the Arts Council is hoping to get some more help from the community in keeping the festival clean.
“I know that Augusta is in the process of signing up for Keep America Beautiful and one of our challenges over the weekend is picking up garbage on Broad Street. We pay three people to constantly tour in golf carts with big boxes on the back, picking up trash,” Durant said. “Our logistics team joined them starting Saturday afternoon, pulling bags and tying them in knots. But there are still — for some reason — people who like to drop their trash where they are, which is a little bit amazing to me. So what we would like to find are some teams of people to help us pick up garbage, whether it be Boy Scouts, a Keep America Beautiful team, a high school that needs community credit, things of that sort, so we need people who arrive knowing that they’re going to be given a little grabber and a garbage bag and rubber gloves, and they’re going to pick up garbage. So if anyone out there wants to do that, that’s what we’re looking for, is teams to help us with trash.”
Along with the art and food, Durant was pleased with the performances this year.
“I do a lot of walking; I walked over 25 miles over my time at the festival, and the jazz stage was full every time I went by. … The family area was very activated, it seemed very neat this year, very organized, and we had the artists on the south side of the 700 block. So not only did they have the stage in the well-loved parking decks, but there was lots of activation on the street. McDonald’s was there, hands-on arts and crafts, the henna booth, tie-dye booth, but then street performers, which makes it very fun. Some of that street performance kind of drifted onto 8th and 9th as well, which it’s super fun to look over and see a 9-year-old playing the accordion and you’re like ‘Wow, where am I? This is cool.’
“And the global stage was great, lots of international entertainment during the day and then bands at night. We did a new thing this year with opening where we brought in a Latin DJ, DJ Andrew Serrano, who does this Latin music at Oliviana on Friday nights. He came on and DJ’d for half an hour before opening ceremonies on Friday, and then during opening ceremonies, he was there on stage kind of filling in any blanks, so that was cool. And the Troubador Stage, which is the indoor stage, it looked like on Sunday, during Mahogany Lounge, they had a full house.
“And Author’s Alley, which was the first time we did that, that was next to the Book Tavern inside the JB White’s Building. The authors were very happy; I met them early in the weekend, maybe Friday when they were just getting started, and then by Sunday, I understand they’d sold their books and had good crowds. So people really seemed to wander through all aspects of the festival. And the community stage — that’s managed by Spencer Shadden — that’s a lot of local bands, and that always has a good crowd and good vibe. And then we brought in this touring singer-songwriter series on Sunday to close it down. And that had a really nice crowd. Lots of pictures of Otis Redding III and Keith Jenkins, so that was kind of cool.”
“I was really impressed by how our logistics and electrical folks managed to get it set up, even though we were unable to get started on it when we normally would in setting up the actual site of the festival, because of Hurricane Irma,” Bobrow said. “So there were things that had to be crunched, with a lot of people up until 4 a.m., but people do it. They make it happen, and I find that really inspiring. So, shout-out to our logistics team and Tracer Audio.”
Durant said she thanks the community for coming out.
“It’s the one weekend where it’s an event that really reflects Augusta and the whole river area, and then it takes so many volunteers,” she said. “There’s about a thousand people who sign up to take a shift, in addition to the people who voluntarily are cooking in the Global Village, the steering community, their friends who come out and help them during the weekend, so it’s quite an undertaking and a lot people have their hands in it, and of course the city of Augusta who supports us all the way. So it’s wonderful. And the sponsors; it was fun to have Lidl on site, and it just opened on Thursday and there they were at Arts in the Heart on Friday, so it was kind of fun. We had a great time.”
The community is looking forward to a great 38th year of the Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival next year, a festival our readers chose for Metro’s Best Annual Festival for 2017!