116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The Marion Arts Festival traditionally has been a one-day event drawing 10,000 people to Marion Square Park.
However, this year has been anything but traditional. When the pandemic hit, the festival was one of the early casualties.
“The CDC put out a recommendation that all public events larger than 100 people were to shut down for an eight-week period, and we fell within those eight weeks,” director Deb Bailey said. “I imagine we were one of the first art festivals to fall. …
“We did what we could online to support the artists who were to have been with us.”
This year, the entire event is going online, and not just for one day, but for one month: Saturday through May 23.
And while anyone anywhere can browse the art, the primary focus is on the work of Iowa artists, as noted on the festival’s Facebook page: “Because pandemic and derecho recovery is local. And regional. And very, very Iowan.”
With the tagline, “On the Internet, There is No Rain,” the virtual event also will feature video demonstrations; contactless take-and-make activities for the signature Empty Bowls project benefiting area food banks; Mother’s Day card kits, available at the Marion Public Library, with a video link to create alongside Cedar Rapids artist Dori Patrick; information on Uptown Marion merchants and activities; as well as quirky video home tours and tours of artists’ refrigerators.
Past in-person events featured 50 artist booths. So far, about 40 Iowa and Midwest artists are on board to offer their wares — from ceramics, jewelry and painting to photography, mix media and fine-art wood — through online links.
When: Saturday to May 23
Features: Links to artists’ sites, virtual tours, videos, make-and-take Empty Bowls and Mother’s Day card kits
Related: Raffle drawing on May 23 for a print of Marion artist Shane McCallister’s portrait of Dolly Parton; funds raised support the Dolly Parton Imagination Library in Marion, financed in part by the Friends of the Marion Public Library; details at mpliowafriends.org/raffle
“We want to build a bridge to 2022,” said Bailey, 59, of Cedar Rapids. “We have the support, we have the artistic talent, we have the community support toward creating take-and-make activities.”
Initially, she and the board had planned for a 25-artist socially distanced show on May 15, but around January, city event planners advised potential park-users to find a different site.
The festival has been held in the Uptown Marion park since its beginnings, but without being able to have food vendors and the hands-on ceramics activities in the Depot, festival organizers decided to pivot to the virtual realm.
“If (the public) can’t gather and they can’t come to us, we need to reach out to people where they are,” said Bailey, who joined the organization in 2003 and staged her first Marion Arts Festival in 2004.
Its roots go back to 1992, thanks to local artist Priscilla Steele’s vision and the community’s support.
“When Priscilla (and husband Craig Campbell) came to town, uptown was languishing the way uptowns were,” Bailey said. “Priscilla looked across the street and saw the park and said, ’Hey, let’s put on a show.’ So she invited all of her artist friends, and they came, and it rained, and the people came, right out of the box.
“Priscilla and Craig facilitated that. It was their concept, it was their execution, and their foundation made the festival what it is and what it can be.”
Everything changed in 2007, when the National Endowment for the Arts split the country into five regions and offered them funding to figure out a way to support working artists, Bailey noted.
“One region came up with an online artist application system that completely opened up shows to artists from across the country,” she said. “All of a sudden, bam, it was as if every artist in the country was thrown into a box, and that box was shaken up, and they just landed in all these new places. And one of those places was Marion.”
She worried that no one would apply to a 50-artist show, so when she received 300 applications, she worried they wouldn’t want to apply in subsequent years if the applicant field remained that huge.
“I thought, we’ll enjoy this one year, then go back to enjoying our status quo,” Bailey said. “But no. Artists adapted, shows adapted, so we became and remain a nationally recognized event, which would never have happened otherwise.
“But, it wouldn’t have stayed that way if audiences hadn’t supported these artists, because nobody is traveling to a one-day, 50-artist show from Florida or New York or California or Washington. It takes an audience to make that trip worthwhile, and somehow ours does,” she said.
“All credit goes to the community — to our audience in the community.”
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