A DAY AWAY: Marion Arts Festival turns 30

30th annual milestone embracing entire Uptown District

The Marion Arts Festival is celebrating 30 years by painting a new swath on the city’s summer scene.

The event, slated for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21, 2022, is remaining true to the original 1993 plan of presenting 50 fine-arts booths in City Square Park. But the canvas is bigger than ever, with a segment of Seventh Avenue turning into a festival pedestrian zone. Seventh Avenue will be closed between 10th and 12th streets from 9 a.m. Friday to 8 p.m. Saturday, to facilitate setup, the festival itself, and tear down.

And like the first year, when the festival was an invitational, this year’s celebration is showcasing 50 fan-favorite Iowa artists invited to participate, rather than being chosen from a nationwide pool of artists competing for one of the coveted booth spaces.

“We felt that (having an invitational) would be fitting with that 30th annual event,” said Deb Bailey, 60, of Cedar Rapids. She became festival director in 2003, and began planning the 2004 festival.

What: Marion Arts Festival

Where: City Square Park, 1001 Seventh Ave., Uptown Marion

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 21, 2022

Featuring: 50 fine-arts booths, 5K and half-marathon races, Empty Bowls fundraiser, Art in the Depot activities, snack vendors

Details: marionartsfestival.com/

The milestone celebration is especially important, since the festival is returning to a live event after being canceled in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, and switching to an online format last year, in the wake of the ongoing pandemic and construction around the park.

“We want for everybody to have success (and) that the audience wants to come and find things that they love and can take home with them. The artists need a success; Uptown deserves an opportunity to show itself off; and by inviting back fan favorites from years past, we said that that’s the perfect formula for this anniversary event,” Bailey said.

“The artists and the audience know each other, they love each other. Some of the artists we haven’t seen for quite some time, so it will be an exciting reunion, and we’re happy to facilitate that.”

Next year, the festival will return to a competitive format for artist booths, Bailey said.

It’s had quite a trajectory since 1992, when Craig Campbell, who then ran the Campbell Steele Gallery with his wife, artist Priscilla Steele, floated the festival notion at a Marion Merchants Association meeting as a way to jump-start attention to the city center.

“Priscilla has a background in doing art festivals and she has many, many artist friends,” Bailey said. “And so after consulting, they decided, ‘Hey, kids, let’s put on a show,’ and they could just look out their front window into the park and imagine it.”

The festival launched in 1993, under the auspices of then-director Victoria Quinn-Stephens, and despite the rainy day, people came. It was so successful that the festival “just took off,” Bailey said, “and didn’t take long for it to become an institution — a much-anticipated event.”

The little festival that could has grown into consistently attracting 10,000 visitors, and being ranked among the Top 25 fine arts events in the nation.

Uptown district

The festival has a lot of friends ready to party in the park and on the periphery, broadening the scope to embrace the entire core region.

“Uptown Marion has always been a butterfly,” Bailey said, noting that the district keeps emerging from successive cocoons with something bigger and brighter.

Named an Iowa Cultural and Entertainment District in 2005, Uptown Marion — spanning 20 blocks of the Linn County city’s historic commercial district — was chosen as a Main Street Iowa Community in 2013, and is in the midst of a major transformation in streetscapes, buildings, restaurants and shops.

“The butterfly that is emerging in 2022 is spectacular,” Bailey said. “For people who have been dissuaded from coming to Marion by what they perceive as having been construction barriers, it’s a different Marion in three years,” since the last in-person Marion Arts Festival in 2019.

“Come for the festival, stay for the Uptown,” she said. “There’s so many new restaurants, so many new retailers. The streetscape is beautiful, the Artway is gleaming.

“Marion is the place to be on Saturday. If you haven’t seen it in a while, you won’t just be surprised, you’ll be amazed,” she added. “(It’s) the opportunity to showcase Marion.”

However, visitors still will see plenty of construction, with 10th Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues torn up, and buildings rising along Seventh Avenue, east of the park. So plan on parking a block or two away. Accessible parking will be available along Seventh Avenue. And when nature calls, you’ll find portable toilets along Sixth Avenue, adjacent to the park.

Returning events

The half marathon and 5K runs are back, organized by Corridor Running. Race day registration and packet pickup is from 6 to 7:15 a.m. Saturday at the City Hall parking lot, corner of Fifth Avenue and 12th Street, where both runs begin at 7:30. For routes, go to corridorrunning.com/marion-arts-festival

Art in the Depot lets festival visitors of all ages get in on the action in the park pavilion. There, they can work side-by-side with artists from the Iowa Ceramics Center and Glass Studio on wet clay activities and pottery wheel spins. Participants also are invited to make bowls for the 2023 Empty Bowls sale. marionartsfestival.com/art-in-the-depot

Speaking of which, this year’s Empty Bowls fundraiser “will probably push us over the threshold of having donated $110,000 to area food banks,” Bailey noted. The program is so popular, she said the line forms at 9 a.m. “to get first crack” at the creations, most of which sell for $5. The program started in 1996, and continues to offer bowls made by students throughout the Corridor. Area artists also donate ceramic and wood bowls to the cause.

Other activities

Music and activities will be popping up in the Artway, too, but instead of entering from 10th Street, look for the artistic arch above the entrance in the middle of the block across from the park, instead of 10th Street.

In addition to a couple of snack vendors in the festival footprint, Bailey is thrilled to have Uptown eateries serving as a “food court,” offering grab-and-go meals that visitors can purchase and take into the park and surrounding areas for picnics.

Even earlier in the day, the Marion-East Cedar Rapids Rotary is serving up a waffle breakfast from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Vernon Middle School, 1350 Fourth Ave. Tickets are $8 at the door, and the event also features a silent auction. facebook.com/MarionRotary

“Art by Your Friends and Neighbors” is returning from the virtual realm to the walls of the Marion Heritage Center, 590 10th St. It opens Saturday and will be on view through July 30, showcasing the work of area artists in various media. marionheritagecenter.org/exhibits/2022-art-show/

“A Body of Work” art installation will be on view Saturday through June 4 at West End Diner, 809 Sixth Ave. Celebrating the human form, the exhibit features works by local artists Priscilla Steele, Karen Hoyt, Gae Sharp Richardson and Pam Hyberger.

On the outskirts of town, Great American Kites will send colorful, giant kites flying from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the baseball diamonds at Lowe Park, 4401 Irish Dr. Admission is free; bring seating, and outside food and drink are allowed. facebook.com/events/708291777243288

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com