Art in the Park celebrates its 50th year
Missourian Archives
In this undated file photo, Betty Dashew-Robins, a founder of the Columbia Art League, stands in her art shop on Broadway. The shop sold South Asian art and antiques. Dashew-Robins died in 2005.

The Columbia Art League will hold its 50th Annual Art in the Park this June. What began as a sidewalk show with a few artists in 1958 has grown into a two-day, yearly event.

By ANNIE HARP

COLUMBIA — This June the Columbia Art League will hold its 50th Annual Art in the Park event. With 120 artists showing their work to between 18,000 and 20,000 viewers and buyers from Columbia and mid-Missouri, Stephens Lake Park will be the art center of mid-Missouri.

Art in the Park attracts more people than any other visual arts event in Columbia. Although Art in the Park is popular now, it came from humble beginnings.

The Columbia Art League was formed in 1959 by a group of students who attended an adult evening art class at Christian College, now Columbia College. They were a small group who gathered to continue their painting outside of the classroom. One of those students was Arthur Robins, now 87.

“We met more often at our home and painted more often as a group; then we would pay an artist to come in and critique our work,” Robins said.

Robins’s wife, Betty Dashew-Robins, suggested starting what eventually became the Columbia Art League. Dashew-Robins, who died in 2005, was also the first president of the group.

The art fair started in 1958 but did not begin in the park.

“It started every year when we had a sidewalk show downtown,” said Robins, retired MU professor of psychiatry. “We would close off Broadway and some of the other side streets. At this point, it was called the Sidewalk Show.”

In the beginning, a small committee would contact artists around town. The Sidewalk Show was not juried, which means the artists were not judged on whether they could exhibit their work.

“Anybody who wanted to have a spot on the sidewalk could just set up an easel,” Robins said, “As it got more popular, people began to set up booths. We had more professional craftsmen come as time went on.”

Throughout the years, the Missourian has documented the event as it changed venues and attracted more viewers. For instance, in 1967, the Ninth Annual Columbia Art League Art Fair was held on a single day at the Parkade Plaza mall. Paintings and drawings were the most abundant kinds of art at the fair, though some sculptures, ceramics and jewelry were sold as well. In 1969 the fair reached a record 51 exhibits, which extended through the mall. Artists came from as far away as Kirksville and Springfield.

The 22nd Annual Art Fair in 1980 marked the first time the fair became a two-day event. Held on the Boone County Courthouse lawn, the fair attracted about 75 artists from Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Iowa.

In 1983, on its 25th anniversary, the fair included exhibits and artists from as far away as Oregon and was held at Stephens College. By then, the event included music, several forms of dance and some literary arts. It also offered activities for children, including a puppet show and storytelling. The MU Museum of Art and Archeology taught the children how to make themselves into a mummy.

Now called Art in the Park, the fair is held at Stephens Lake Park at Broadway and Old 63. Diana Moxon, the executive director of the Columbia Art League, is expecting about 160 applications to exhibit, of which only 120 will be selected. She said she expects about one-third of them to be from outside Missouri.

“I don’t like it to grow too much,” Moxon said. “I want the artists to go away feeling like it was worth their travel expenses.” .

She said she hopes that the league will continue to sell more sponsorship. “It’s just a question of building it year by year,” Moxon said.

She said she believes there could be more sponsorships if there were a director or one person in charge of just that job for Art in the Park. But Moxon fills this role along with many others for the Art League.

“It’s one of the many hats I wear,” she said.

This year the Columbia Art League has attracted its biggest sponsor yet, U.S. Cellular. The firm will sponsor the music.

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