COLUMBIA — A 14-foot sculpture blew bubbles throughout downtown Columbia’s clear blue sky Saturday at the 16th Annual Festival of the Arts. The festival features more than 40 live performances and 50 visual artist exhibitions in white tents dotting the area around the Boone County Courthouse Square.
Connie Zullo, a festival volunteer and a chairwoman of visual arts for 2007, has been involved with the event for the past two years. She said volunteers usually begin planning for the event in late spring, while official planning through the Office of Cultural Affairs begins even earlier.
Zullo said volunteers altered some things for this year’s festival to help the it go smoothly and make artists more comfortable. The extras include food and coffee, booth-sitters and bottles of water delivered to artists throughout the day — which have come in especially handy given this year’s 80-degree weather.
“The artists really appreciate the hospitality we’ve offered them this year,” Zullo said.
Zullo said there were more festivalgoers this year than in previous years.
Marie Hunter, manager of Columbia’s Office of Cultural Affairs, described other additions that were made to help improve the festival, including more entertainment for children.
New performer Bill “Stretch” Coleman, who wears nine-foot-high stilts and paints the sky with ribbons, was never without a small herd of children following him around the festival. Hunter said “Stretch” is a great addition to the already existing children’s entertainment offered at the festival, which includes painting, hat-making, theater and storytelling.
There may be some familiar faces around the festival for fans of the annual event. Hunter said many of the visual artists have become festival regulars. Artists must go through an application process in the spring to be featured in the fall festival. Then comes the difficult selection process in which a jury panel picks the featured artists.
One of this year’s returning artists was Jerry Neal, a Missouri ceramicist. He has participated in the festival for the past four years, sometimes accompanied by his wife, who also works in the ceramic medium. This year, he exhibited his work solo, featuring Raku, a 16th-century Japanese pottery technique. The most unusual of his many pieces were pots that use horse hair to create designs within the clay. The horse hair pots, in addition to being rare, are also the hardest to create, he said. Because there is no glaze or additives to the clay, the pots break easily.
Festivalgoers won’t be able to pick up Neal’s pots. He and several other artists attached their works to the exhibition tables to prevent the wind from knocking them over.
Kristin Smith, a digital photographer and first-time exhibitioner at the festival, said she had some trouble with the wind.
“A lot of people had to take down the sides of their tents because they kept blowing in,” she said.
Despite the wind, Smith said she had enjoyed her time in the festival so far.
“I have a really great location,” she said as a string quartet began warming up five feet from her tent.
The festival will continue through 5 p.m. Sunday. While the booths visual artists stay in the same booths both days of the festival, there will be different performers on the main Courthouse Square Stage. Sunday’s lineup includes the Stephens College Dance Company and DanceArts of Columbia, Celtic, jazz and bluegrass music, and the Velvetones, a vocal jazz ensemble from Stephens College.