Art in the Park moves stages to encourage more mingling

Festival coordinators add new music stage among craft booths.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | 4:36 p.m. CDT; updated 4:52 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some people go to Columbia’s annual Art in the Park for the handmade arts and crafts. Some people go to hear live music. This year, in celebration of the event’s 50th anniversary, organizers want to help the two groups circulate more.

One way they’re doing that is by creating a new stage for acoustic music next to the area of booths known as the artist village.

“We have great music this year, so much more than we had even 10 years ago,” said Diana Moxon, executive director of the Columbia Art League, which organizes Art in the Park each year. “We want the music and art to have a broader base, to appeal to more people. We want to support the artists and continue having Art in the Park be a great part of Columbia.”

Music will be performed in three fixed spaces: the U.S. Cellular Main Stage; the Art in Heath Care Foundation Youth Roots Stage and the new Premier Bank Shady Tree Stage. Strolling entertainers will move throughout the park. Genres include folk, twang, Irish, blues, jazz, rock, bluegrass, Cajun and alternative country.

One reason the new stage next to the artists’ booths will be acoustic is because there’s no electricity there, “so we wanted something creative and fun,” said Jane Accurso, music director for Art in the Park. “We decided on the old-time fiddling, which was traditionally played under shady trees and front porches, because it would be an authentic way to put music out there near the artists’ village.”

The Shady Tree Stage came to be when Accurso contacted Howard Marshall, a retired MU professor of art history and archaeology and a well-known fiddler. Marshall, in turn, contacted fiddlers from around the state. He said he wants the stage to be informal and have a welcoming, almost accidental feel — as if the musicians just got together to play some tunes.

“The artists’ area tended to be away from the main action,” Marshall said. “So on one hand, I think they just wanted more liveliness to get people to move throughout the whole site. But really more than that, to me, all the expressive arts and cultural heritage — trombones, paintbrushes and people building buildings — it’s all art. By even having just a small little stage of fiddlers in with the broader art festival, it kind of reinforces the message of art belonging to everyone.”

The stage will feature performers who represent the main genres of fiddle music, including old-time, bluegrass and swing. At least three generations will be represented throughout the 50-minute sets, from teenagers to people in their early 80s. Marshall said he hopes people who come to the festival just for the music will wander around to look at the artists’ booths nearby.

“A festival like this has lots of levels, lots of facets to it,” Marshall said. “We hope that people will see and be exposed to other kinds of art that they weren’t aware of. We’ve noticed this at this festival — that somebody will be standing in a tent looking at somebody’s pottery and they will hear the music from the stage and say, ‘What’s that?’ Maybe they go find out what that is.”

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