Preview: Longtime Festival of Arts mixes new and familiar in downtown Oklahoma City
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Fresh flair: Downtown Festival of the Arts sprinkles in new offerings with familiar favorites
A festive photo booth, Cajun treats served out of real pineapple “bowls” and grilled cheese delights as seen on TV will be among the new offerings at one of downtown Oklahoma City’s biggest and most beloved events.
Known as Oklahoma City's “rite of spring,” the 53rd Annual Festival of the Arts will feature an array of visual, performing and culinary arts — and people eager to partake in them — from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through April 27 and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 28 at Bicentennial Park between the Civic Center and City Hall, Colcord and Couch drives, and the City Hall lawn.
“It has everything: It has music, entertainment. It has a place where adults can go and have their adult time, and there’s also obviously great things for the children. Some of the things for the children are really creative. I don’t have that in my gene, but the people who do and are doing that have done a fabulous job there for the kids,” said festival co-chairman Susan Whittington. “It’s a fun time for families, and of course, wonderful art, so you get everything.”
Options for youngsters at the festival include the Creation Station community art project, the Children’s Art Field with its art activities and the new Festi-Pics photo booth. Co-chairman Randy Lewis said it will replace the longtime favorite Balloons & Flowers booth due to a helium shortage that makes the balloon-filling specialty gas unattainable for the event.
“We still wanted to be able to give flowers out … and we think that’s an interesting add out of something that was maybe going to have to go away,” he said.
Children will still be able to enjoy longtime favorites like the Pottery Place, Sculpture Park and the Young-at-Art Mart. The latter “empowers young people to make their own decisions,” said Peter Dolese, executive director of Arts Council Oklahoma City, the nonprofit organization that produces the festival.
“That’s the most beautiful part of it, because the parents are not allowed to go into the booth with them. It’s all original artwork offered by different artists on the grounds, and the kid gets to go into the booth and everything is only $5 or less. … Then they come out and they can go out on the grounds and meet the artist.”
The more than 144 diverse artists showcased in the Artists Square hail from around Oklahoma and the country. Plus, the lineup this year will include an international artist: Yoram Gal, a painter from Israel.
The performing arts will be showcased on three stages, with local favorites like the Lynda Tarpley Tappers, guitarist Edgar Cruz, Yumare Mexican Folkloric Dance, R&B band Shortt Dogg, Americana outfit Beau Jennings and the Tigers, rockers the Wise Guys and many more entertaining the crowds. A different kind of performance art – the kind that ends in free samples – is showcased in the culinary arts tent.
“Of course, there’s the great food. It’s not just hamburgers and hot dogs at the festival,” Whittington said.
Along with familiar fare like Indian tacos, Strawberries Newport and fish tacos, International Food Row will feature new vendors like Tom + Chee, a concept featured on the TV series “Shark Tank” that offers variations on tomato soup and grilled cheese, including a grilled cheese donut.
Another newcomer, The Bayou will bring a tropical flavor to many of the dishes of its menu.
“He cores out the inside of a pineapple, cuts it in half, and then he’s able to do Cajun dishes and rice dishes and that sort of thing inside of them,” Lewis said. “We just think people walking around with those pineapples, from a visual aspect, it’s going to be, ‘Where’d you get that?!’”
Each of the food vendors partners with a local nonprofit arts organization, which provides volunteers so that the group can share in the proceeds.
For those seeking low-cost nosh, Arts Council OKC operates the Mustard’s Last Stand hot dog booth, plus the soft drink and wine and beer tents. Proceeds from the festival benefit the Arts Council OKC’s programs like Opening Night, the Twilight Concert Series, Art Moves and All Access Arts.
Still, admission to the festival is free, Dolese said, with more than 5,000 volunteers working each year to help keep it that way.
“Our mission statement is to bring the arts and the community together. And we want to be able to offer low-cost and affordable activities that the entire community can come to,” he said. “There’s many opportunities to purchase all sort of things at the festival – you can buy drinks, you can buy art. … But It’s kind of nice to be able to not have an admission fee tacked on. … And that’s why we have such a great crowd. That’s why hundreds of thousands of people come every year.”
53rd Annual Festival of the Arts
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through April 27, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 28.
Where: Bicentennial Park, Colcord and Couch drives, and City Hall lawn.
Admission: Free. Pets are not allowed.
Angels & Friends fundraising party: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Civic Center Atrium, 201 N Walker. Tickets range from $65 to $2,500.
Information: 270-4848 or www.artscouncilokc.com.