Art debuts the creativity in Columbia


Maribeth Eiken

Illustration by Hyelee Won
Illustration by Hyelee Won
After the freezing, busy days of winter and work, the thought of long Missouri summers initiates a childish fever in the hearts of Columbians. Summers bring festivals, concerts and the freedom to be young and let loose.
“I can’t wait for summer,” junior Haley Benson said. “It’s the last free summer before I have to start thinking about college. I plan on hanging out with my friends and having a lot of free time to myself.”
Students gear up for the summer ahead, and whether it is filled with beach trips, late nights of junk food and movies or just sleeping in for hours, excitement lingers in the final weeks of school. With all this free time to fill, Columbia’s festivals provide welcoming entertainment for all those interested.
Inspiration meanders around every corner as musicians play their masterpieces, first heard by the ears of hometown folk lucky enough to claim the artists as their own. Cameras tick on the asphalt jungle of ninth and Broadway, searching for the individuality so easily found in our diverse population. Graffiti pops off of stones and patches of sidewalks, telephone poles and alley walls, existing as outbursts of passion and talent from their creators.
The artists of Columbia get their shining moments in the spotlight during spring and summer when The District devotes itself to these talents that fill our streets and stand among the population everyday. They buy coffee from the same vendors and sit in the same theaters as everyone else, just waiting for recognition of their talents.
“This is how they pay their rent,” Art in the Park coordinator Diana Mixon said. “This is how they send their kids to school, by selling their art. It’s much more than what people imagine.”
The District works to bring the general public closer to the artistic population of Columbia by promoting, planning and holding festivals, providing both the artist and the audience the opportunity to communicate. Vending artists get the chance to share their work with a wide range of buyers and admiring folk, who in turn have the chance to appreciate the work and the ability to buy it for themselves.
The festivals help the community “to appreciate art much more, to become engaged,” Mixon said. “And, it’s a business deal for the artists.”
From grass to asphalt, there are endless opportunities for Columbians to get the full effect of art spread across thousands of smiling faces. These smiles anticipate Columbia festivities during cold months, hibernating and patiently waiting for the light of day.
One of the festivals inciting childish smiles is Art in the Park, occurring on the first weekend of June every year. The festivities, which were started 51 years ago by the Columbia Art League, welcome traditional art styles to the community, but with a modern twist.
“[Art in the Park] gives people a chance to experience the arts in a slightly non-traditional setting,” Mixon said.
The event  brings magical creatures to life with the help of kid’s craft tables that stretch the already wide imagination of toddlers. These same kids quickly transform from humans to animals with face painting and mask decorating, guided by volunteers.
Junior Megan Kelly participated as a volunteer at Art in the Park several summers ago. She loved the atmosphere and the joy beaming from each child as they waited patiently for Kelly to paint a masterpiece upon their faces.
“Whenever you paint a child’s face, they’re always happy,” Kelly said. “You could think your art doesn’t look good, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh! This is amazing!’”
For the more complex, thoughtful minds, clay figures are interspersed between booths and cool blades of grass, provoking the creative minds milling about. Hand blown glass sits at eye-level, reflecting the striking sun and catching the eyes of those taking ganders at countless artistic offerings. Photographs capture images never seen before, and most likely never given the chance to be seen again. And, of course, paintings fill isles with color and substance.
Senior Courtney Nowlin attends Art in the Park every year. She loves the laid back environment and the connection between creation and nature during the festival.
“I always like [Art in the Park] because it’s cool to look at all the local art,” Nowlin said. “I like the cultural feel.”
Because Art in the Park is centered around artists and their talents, those with booths and pieces up for sale have the chance to interact with their customers and develop important professional and personal relationships. Art in the Park provides a chance for artists to communicate with buyers and receive appreciation for the hard work that engulfs the entirety of Stephens Park.
“I think [Art in the Park] gives artists a feeling of gratification,” Nowlin said. “It makes them want to keep making art. It brings a sense of connection and appreciation of art and local vendors.”
From canvas to stage, different artists create masterpieces with different, musically-led inspirations.
Another striking Columbia tradition is the aptly named 9th Street Summer Fest. A massive soundstage stands at the intersection of 9th Street and Broadway, awaiting the heart-pounding talents of artists. Hundreds of bodies warm the asphalt beneath the stampede of sneakers, heels and bare toes, all reflecting the diversity making up the crowd itself. Friendly smiles, laughter and fate bring individuals together, all the while celebrating music.
Hundreds of minds, spirits and hearts join together, filling 9th Street. Music flies through the air  as smoke and the smell of locally catered food fill the noses of those experiencing the bands from near and far.
Beginning in 2004, Columbia’s Blue Note came up with the idea of Summer Fest in the hopes of making downtown Columbia less boring during the summer months. Summer Fest hosts both local musicians and musicians from an assortment of other cities and states, ready to play hard and long. Every announced Wednesday night brings artists like Jamey Johnson, Dierks Bentley (both will perform at Summer Fest in May 2013) and the HipNecks.
“It’s a really good opportunity because you get more bands to come to Columbia who aren’t local,” junior Ryan Tray said. “It’s an easy going, pleasing atmosphere to go and listen to music.”
Not only was Summer Fest a fun experience for Tray, but an inspiring one as well.
“I’ve always been really into music,” Tray said. “Going to a concert not just in the Blue Note but at a different venue furthered my love of music and made me want to strive to work harder because it looks like fun, like something I want to do.”
But, music and art don’t end there for Columbians. Along with Art in the Park and 9th Street Summer Fest, the District holds many other imagination-feeding art expression festivals during the summer months, like the J.W. Boone Ragtime Celebration, the Memorial Day Parade and Artrageous Fridays.
Artrageous Fridays claim to their name; they take place on Fridays, they include art and they are outrageous. Every last Friday of each quarter, Orr Street studios, The Village Art Walk, The Missouri Contemporary Ballet, PS:Gallery, Columbia Art League, Bluestem, The Bingham Gallery, Poppy and The Missouri Theatre open their doors, allowing those attending the festivities a chance for artistic inspiration.
Beginning at 6 p.m. and carrying on for a short three hours on June 18 and Oct. 11-13, the amount of art available to take in is mind-blowing. Local artists get the chance to interact with their customers and those enjoying their masterpieces. Downtown traffic skyrockets on beautiful Artrageous Friday nights.
From relaxing, art-filled Friday nights to sunny Saturdays celebrating music and history, the history of J.W. Boone has incited a festival all its own.
The J.W. Boone Ragtime Celebration invites everyone in Columbia to celebrate the ragtime artist  J.W. “Blind” Boone. Ragtime is a music genre centered around syncopated rhythms within the musical text; it’s lighthearted and easy to dance to.
The festival, taking place on the first weekend of June, offers a wide, unplanned variety of activities such as traveling to important historical sites of Boone’s existence, seminars by historians, lessons and even concerts of the ragtime artists of today.
Art and music are not the only mediums. Columbians have the opportunity to enjoy during the summer, but many other events taking place in the community attract a wide  variety of individuals.