*This story has been updated to include a photo gallery of event preparations.
COLUMBIA — People who attend Art in the Park this weekend at Stephens Lake Park might notice the audio system for the StoneLion Puppet performance will be solar-powered.
WHAT IS IT? 56th annual Art in the Park festival
WHEN IS IT? From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine.
WHERE IS IT? Stephens Lake Park.
WHAT DOES IT COST? Entrance to the festival, as well as many of the activities, is free, but some vendors will have artwork for sale.
WHERE SHOULD I PARK? The parking lot at Stephens Lake Park is only for people with disabilities during the weekend. Free parking for others is available at the nearby Boone Hospital Center, and there will be free shuttles running from the hospital lot to the park entrance.
That means no more noise caused by a gasoline generator.
This will be the first time a solar-powered audio system will be used at the annual art festival. It was designed by Tom O'Connor, who has been volunteering with Art in the Park since 1995. It will support the speaker and microphone for the puppet show at the Kid's Art Spot, where children can create art projects.
Much of the solar-power system is contained in a blue cooler connected to a large black solar panel. The panel collects solar energy and links to a controller that charges four 12-volt batteries to produce DC power. With an inverter, it can produce AC power to power a public-address system.
Before O'Connor created the system, festival workers had to run extension cords to a far-away power outlet or use noisy gasoline generators.
O'Connor said he had the idea a long time ago and put the contraption together in one weekend. He continued to adjust it and spent one or two hours last weekend tweaking it especially for Art in the Park.
Aware that it was likely to be cloudy or rainy this weekend, O'Connor fully charged the system last weekend when it was sunnier. The solar panel collects about 135 watts when it is in full sun.
"The sun was shining last weekend," he said. "That's the energy we are using today."
With 750 watts, and because it can charge constantly even when it is cloudy, the system can support a very loud audio system for days, O'Connor said.
Art in the Park volunteer coordinator Mellodie Wilson was supervising workers who were setting up for the festival on Friday.
"He is a super green guy," she said, pointing at O'Connor.
Last year, O'Connor started a water bar at the Art in the Park. It allowed people to spend $2 on a tumbler that they could refill with free fruit-flavored water throughout the festival.
The tumblers sold out. O'Connor came up with that particular idea after collecting trash at previous festivals and seeing bins full of empty water bottles.
"This is just horribly wrong," he said he thought at the time.
"I am kind of an environmental guy," O'Connor said. "It always pains me to have bottled water."
O'Connor, 46, is director of trash for the festival and also assists the executive director, Diana Moxon, who also happens to be his wife. His parents were volunteers for the festival in the 1970s, which sparked his interest.
There are about 160 volunteers this year. Wilson said that's fewer than last year because more volunteers are willing to work more hours instead of a regular two-hour shift. Many volunteer the whole day.
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