Fast forward to ArtWorks; Festival giving people taste of big weekend

Austin native Bret Hesla leads the Community Sings benefit for Haiti at the Eagle’s Club in Minneapolis in October 2010. Photo provided

Austin native Bret Hesla leads the Community Sings benefit for Haiti at the Eagle’s Club in Minneapolis in October 2010.
Photo provided

When organizers of the Austin ArtWorks Festival first hashed out the inaugural festival, they had no thoughts to expand it past its two-day schedule. However, in the three years of the festival, the popular arts event has spilled into the week previous.

“We actually started this last year,” said Bonnie Rietz, co-organizer of the festival. “We found there were more activities than we could put in the two days of the festival. We thought, ‘Let’s put these activities in the week before and lead up to the festival and excitement of the festival.’”

Each day of the week before the festival has an event of some kind, ranging from music to the stage, but in all ways are meant to get the community involved.

“It’s getting people engaged rather than just consuming [art],” said Austin ArtWorks Center Education and Marketing Coordinator Grace Heimsness. “To actually engage in it and create art.”

Makem & Spain

Makem & Spain

Among the events of that week, which include an Uncork & Create event, Makem & Spain, the third and final show of the World Music Series; and the Matchbox Children’s Theatre presentation of “The Wizard of Oz,” is a visit by Bret Hesla and Mary Preus and the Minnesota Community Sings.

“It’s that kind of an event and your the show itself,” Heimsness said. “It’s a chance for people to come in and catch up with friends and neighbors and have a better connection. There’s no skill level involved. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a shower singer or were in the Austinaires.”

The Austin native brings an interesting way of getting the community involved by hosting events that are exactly as they sound — a chance for the community to come and sing together.

“He leads these sings in the state so we contacted him,” Rietz said. “We couldn’t find a time, so we thought, ‘Let’s put him in the week before.’ It’s kind of nice to pop these things in.”

For Hesla and Preus, events like this are a perfect setting for the Minnesota Community Sings.

Mary Preus. Photo provided

Mary Preus. Photo provided

“We’re really excited to be coming down,” Preus said. “It looks like a lot of fun. Come have the time of your life.”

The duo of song-leaders have been in contact with the ArtWorks Festival Committee and Hesla has made the trip down to take a look at the pavilion for acoustics purposes. It’s part of a long series of preparation.

“There is quite a bit of preparation,” Preus said. “We’ve been in communication with the folks of Austin for quite some time. We’ve been thinking about that community, what songs might be fun, the age range of people that might show up and then we’ll present a set list.”

The group organizes about 12 shows every year that can take place in parks, people’s homes or churches. But each time the message is the same.

“Turn off the computer,” Mary said with a chuckle. “Sit down next to somebody and listen to their voice singing with yours. That kind of contact that our ancestors made regularly in a community setting is lost for people. People long for that sort of thing.”

It’s the kind of spirit organizers wanted for the week. Events that bring the people of the community together, something organizers wanted from the beginning for the festival and later the events of the week before.

“There’s something kind of exciting and fun about doing something fun like this,” Rietz said. “We had somewhat of an idea. We knew it was Saturday and Sunday, but each year we talked about what we can do to make it better. We wanted to keep the festival very much alive. Each year wondered, What can we do to add to the festival?”

And of course it’s a chance to get the community excited about the festival itself.

“We want to get them in that mode,” Heimsness said. “These are free events except for the Matchbox Children’s Theatre and that’s nominal. It’s accessible and that’s what we are really go for.

While the week-before events weren’t in the original plan from the beginning, it’s been a welcome addition.

“If you would have asked me before we started this I would have said I don’t think so,” Rietz said. “Two days, wow. It’s interesting how a Festival grows. We have to keep our eyes and ears open. It’s definitely not the same every year.”

Schedule of Events

•Monday, Aug. 17: Uncork & Create: Festival Edition, 7 to 9:30 p.m., at the Hormel Historic Home

•Tuesday, Aug. 18: Minnesota Community Sings, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Veteran’s Pavillion

•Wednesday, Aug. 19: World Music Series: Makem & Spain, 7 to 8:30 p.m., Austin ArtWorks Center

•Thursday, Aug. 20: Gallery Opening: Jean Formo and Mary Singer, 5 to 7 p.m., Austin ArtWorks Center

•Friday, Aug. 21: Intro to polymer clay, 2 to 4 p.m., Austin ArtWorks Center

Matchbox Children’s Theatre presents “The Wizard of Oz,” 7 p.m., Paramount Theatre.

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