Witching Hour festival debuts in Iowa City

Engaging the unknown

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IOWA CITY — At the beginning of the day Friday, simple swathes of color covered three canvases set up at FilmScene in Iowa City. By 5 p.m., they featured amorphous figures — a three eyed-sea monster on one, a skeletal horseback Jack-o’-lantern on another.

By Saturday, they will have changed again. The art installation, part of the inaugural Witching Hour festival, was being constantly worked on throughout the weekend by members of artist collective Paintallica.

“Everyone just wanders around and paints on each other’s work until something starts to take shape,” painter John Martinek, of Coralville, said. “It’s sort of an exploration, giving into the experience and seeing where it will take you.”

That ethos describes what the Witching Hour festival is trying to achieve. Presented by the Englert Theatre and Little Village, the festival took over a variety of downtown Iowa City venues Friday and will continue Saturday.

Along with the art installations — Paintallica members were also busy with chain saws, carving sculptures inside a cage on the Pedestrian Mall — Friday’s lineup included multiple discussions about making art, a talk by an astronomer, a magic show, film screenings and live music.

The idea, festival organizers said, is to delve into the creative process and “explore and engage the unknown.”

The festival had sold about 900 passes and single-event tickets Friday evening, which Englert Theatre marketing director Aly High said was on track with expectations. The festival didn’t go off without hiccups, however, as Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Margo Jefferson had to reschedule her appearance until April 18, 2016, and a Friday night show by the band Phox was canceled due to illness by singer Monica Martin.

Both Martin and Jefferson had also been scheduled to participate in “Black Art/White Space,” a panel discussion on the experience of working as black artists in white spaces. However, organizers quickly pivoted to find other participants, Iowa City-based writers Jeff Holmes and Alea Adigweme. The discussion drew about 50 people to the Iowa City Public Library.

Adigweme said she was the only black person in her University of Iowa non-fiction writing MFA cohort. Holmes said that limits the experiences of all students, not just students of color.

“A multitude of voices makes our work stronger,” he said.

Earlier in the afternoon, a discussion on the challenges of making a living from art drew fashion designer and BLU Collar Fashion founder Andre Wright, of Iowa City to the audience. He said he appreciated the conversations he was hearing.

“It was a chance to be inspired and really think outside the box when it comes to being a creative,” he said.

If you go

What: Witching Hour Festival

When: Continues today.

Where: Various locations in downtown Iowa City.

Tickets: $25; Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653.

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