Arts in the Heart of Augusta, which just wrapped its 35th festival this past weekend, is always on the third weekend in September. The Greater Augusta Arts Council nailed down this date several years ago to better help traveling artists plan their routes.
So when planners and patrons alike found out that the Georgia-South Carolina game fell on Saturday, September 19 — the same Saturday as Arts in the Heart — many wondered what kind of effect the game and the preceding night’s Border Bash, another well-loved annual event, would have on attendance.
“We wondered what effect the Border Bash and game would have on the event,” said Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant. “It was wonderful to find out the Friday night we beat our attendance records for 2014 and 2013 (it rained a bit in 2014).”
Attendance on Friday’s first day broke records, and the Arts Council says it sold more than 77,000 badges. Crowds at Arts in the Heart Friday night, in fact, included a lot of folks wearing Bulldog and Gamecock attire, and the game didn’t even seem to make a dent in Saturday’s crowds.
“We warned the cookers in the Global Village that Saturday might be a bit light but to expect larger crowds on Sunday. Again, we were wrong,” Durant said. “Saturday we broke all previous attendance records and Sunday did the same. We checked with cookers and artists to see how they are doing. China had a banner year and Germany’s only complaint was that they should have bought more food.”
“More food” is a mantra frequently heard at Arts in the Heart. Usually it’s the patrons saying it, and booths were feeling the heat to keep up with demand. Spain, for example, couldn’t make enough seafood paella and there was a 20-minute wait for Laos’ bubble tea.
Even the festival planners got into the act.
“This year the steering committee had a challenge to see who could eat from every food booth. Saundra Plunkett and I both succeeded,” Durant said. “We shared plates, purchased small sample-sized portions, split our eating between meat, small bites, specialty drinks and dessert. We are thinking of creating a passport so all visitors can try to complete the challenge. It takes three days and a plan of attack, but it can be done. Of course I walked 29.5 miles from Thursday to Sunday, so hopefully I was burning it off.”
Food, of course, wasn’t the only reason to visit Arts in the Heart, and food vendors weren’t the only ones having trouble keeping up with demands. Durant heard from more than one arts vendor who was worried about having enough inventory, and crowds packed all five stages for entertainment throughout the weekend.
And, as predicted, the Family Area was a big hit.
“This year, our Family Area team really created a fully activated city block,” she said. “We had our free hands-on crafts, as well as a wide variety of pay-to-create crafts for kids. The young artists market was so full we ran out of artist ribbons on Saturday afternoon. We had the stage going, street performers, a chalk art zone and all sorts of fun going on.”
All in all, Durant says the festival’s massive success may bring expansions next year. In the meantime, here’s to another Arts in the Heart in the books.