Keeping it Fresh: With a little bit of everything, Austin ArtWorks Festival rolls into 12th year

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2023

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A mainstay now for 12 years, the Austin Artworks Festival has continued to flourish in downtown Austin.

This year should be no different. This year’s festival will be held this coming weekend and will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

People will be treated to an all-out blitz of the arts through a variety of mediums including traditional art, authors, music and more.

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What’s more — the Festival is balancing the idea of ensuring there is a little bit of everything for everyone.

IN TODAY’S HERALD: Be sure to pick up your copy of our special Austin ArtWorks Festival guide, located inside today’s Herald and in our office

“It’s part of why people make a point of coming to the Festival,” said Austin Area Arts Executive Director Laura Helle. “It’s always been about getting somebody who piques people’s interest and has a great personality, great story, great art.”

Rebecca Gardner and her daughter Oona Gardner lay down some sidewalk art during the Austin ArtWorks Festival last year. Herald file photo

It’s a mode of thinking that has organizers walking a thing line as they try to ensure that there is just as much for the first-time visitors as there is for the return patron.

“Every festival we’re walking a tightrope between fulfilling the expectations of people who have been with us every single year and attracting people who have never heard of us, or who have been here every single year and want to see something new,” Helle said. “There’s also the artist you love seeing, the musician you really appreciate — we have to do both.”

Part of the larger effort to reach that broad spectrum is tapping into a spring of diverse offerings, a target of the Festival for a number of years.

“We found when we are putting the headlines on stage or as our featured artists, and they are representing diverse populations it drives attendance of diverse populations,” Helle said. “Seeing themselves reflected on the highest stages, I think, is the best way we can serve those communities.”

Headed by new co-chairs, Lisa Dunlop and Jeff Baldus, the Festival will be just as big of an event as years past, with most everything this year being confined to the area on the green, in the Paramount and the surrounding area.

Helle said they are restricting anything outside of those boundaries to make it easier for people to get around throughout the Festival’s run.

“We want to deliver thousands of customers to downtown businesses, but we also think keeping Main Street open so those customers can drive around and have places to park can be beneficial,” she said.

Heather Friedli. Photo provided

Featured acts

This year’s featured artist will be Heather Friedli, a Native American artist currently residing in the Twin Cities.

“I like to describe her artwork as traditional Minnesota scenes, but with a twist of impressionism and a little bit of poppy colors,” Helle said. “I think it’s a really good fit for Austin.”

At the same time, Friedli is bringing something new to the table in that she will be offering a class on Saturday afternoon.

People need to reserve a spot, so check with the Austin ArtWorks Center to check for available spaces.

While artists in the past have given presentations for their work or had people take part in community projects, including Victor Yepez last year, Friedli’s class will offer a unique opportunity for people to get involved in a way they haven’t before.

“I think it’s one more step up the intimacy rung,” Helle said. “Being in the same room and asking your questions is a pretty great and unusual experience, but then getting to have their instructions and learning to paint is even better.”

Meanwhile, this year’s Schindler Celebration Concert is an act that the Festival has tried to pin down for the last few years, but could never secure.

Chastity Brown, who is also based out of the Twin Cities, is a singer-songwriter the Festival first booked in 2020, but when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the festival down, Festival organizers also thought they had lost Brown.

However, Brown told the committee that she could come back in 2021, however, that year a medical issue forced her to cancel just weeks ahead of the event. Eventually, Austin Area Arts was able to book Brown for a February 2022 show, something Helle said was worth the wait.

“It’s the best live show I’ve been to in 10 years,” Helle said. “Just amazing.”

“Some of our most popular festival artists have been like Charlie Parr,” Helle continued. “It’s the simplicity of a person and their instrument and also an unvarnished singer/songwriter/storyteller, and she just fits all of those categories.”

More sites and sounds

to see, hear and do

Those, of course, are only a few of the events that will highlight the weekend. Some other things of note include the Southland Drumline, which will march in on the opening day to kick off the weekend.

Also on Saturday will be the group Bluedog, which is made up of indigenous members with one of them having connections to growing up in Blooming Prairie.

Then on Sunday, to close out the festival music stage, will be the out of this world group, Loreweavers.

“They describe themselves as interstellar, fantasy, party music,” Helle said. “One of our committee members went to Rochesterfest and (Loreweavers) made an impression, not only because the music was great, but because they engaged the crowd.”

Also during the weekend, Streetcorner Letterpress will be at the festival, allowing people to create and view items created on a letterpress, which will entail actually rolling on the ink to bring to life their creations.

“I’m excited for kids to see that,” Helle said. “Everything is different now, but that’s still an art form.”

For more information on this year’s Austin ArtWorks Festival, visit: