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Annual Art-a-Fest celebration going virtual this year

  • The pottery of Ruben Ruiz of Deer Creek Ceramics will be featured along with the work of several other local and regional artists at this year’s annual Art-a-Fest celebration in Charles City. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • The pottery of Ruben Ruiz of Deer Creek Ceramics will be featured along with the work of several other local and regional artists at this year’s annual Art-a-Fest celebration in Charles City. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • The pottery of Ruben Ruiz of Deer Creek Ceramics will be featured along with the work of several other local and regional artists at this year’s annual Art-a-Fest celebration in Charles City. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob, jgrob@charlescitypress.com

Ashley Schmidt picked an interesting year to take a shot at being chairperson of the Art-a-Fest committee.

“It’s been an adventure,” Schmidt said. “After this year, next year will be a breeze.”

The adventure will come to fruition on Saturday, Aug. 15, when the Charles City Arts Center will host the 47th Annual Art-a-Fest celebration — mostly online, due to concerns about the pandemic.

“We’re really winging it this year,” said Emily Kiewel, CCAC director. “Because of COVID-19, we just didn’t feel like it was safe to hold it out in the park.”

Participants in the art festival are setting up appointments and coming into the arts center and setting up smaller displays, which will be listed online starting Aug. 10.

The artwork will be open for viewing by the public at the CCAC by appointment, and will be photographed and put online. Art patrons can preview the sale online, and sign up for Art-a-Fest bucks online and also at various businesses around town.

“The community response, in terms of sponsorship and donations, has been tremendous,” said Schmidt. “We have a great community, and all the local businesses that have been supporting us are fabulous.”

The sale will go live at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 15. The artists set the prices, and the CCAC will be setting up appointments for curbside pickup at the center. Event updates will be live-streamed throughout the day on social media.

Kiewel said that outside, there will be at least one food truck, so people can grab their lunch when they come to pick up their artwork. There will also be kids outside making pictures with chalk, and those creations will also be posted on the website.

“Goody bags” will be awarded to the young chalk artists, who will need to make an appointment so large crowds of people can be avoided. All social distancing protocols will be followed.

All the information will be available at charlescityartafest.com. Featured artists this year will include Bruce Litterer, Janiece Bergland, Kathi Fehr, Chris Falkavage, Anne Boerschel, Steve Schiller, Noah Orthel, Bill Haywood, Kurt Wedeking, Mickey Johnson, Susan Schrodt, Ruben Ruiz, Kiewel and Schmidt.

David Schmitz, Iowa Arts Council Administrator and local CCHS alum, will be judging the event.

The first Art-a-Fest was five years after the infamous 1968 tornado hit Charles City, and it lasted five days. The first event was located at a house and barn just outside of town. The house was used as the gallery and the barn was also a theater, utilized by the Stony Point Players.

Since then, the event has been located at several parks and other locations throughout Charles City. Art-a-Fest had been in Central Park for about 30 years, and last year it merged with Pioneer Days at the Floyd County Historical Museum and was held at Andres Park, near the museum.

Schmidt said that this year would be a smaller show, as several artists did drop out and there will be about 15 featured.

“Of the ones who are participating, some of them are really excited, they just jumped at the opportunity,” Schmidt said. “Others are just trying it to see how it goes. They’re not sure what to expect, because it’s never been done like this before. It’s new for all of us.”

Schmidt said that Art-a-Fest veterans Janiece and Bruce Bergland were a big help to her as she took her first crack at chairing the committee.

“They provided me with literally a giant box of information and have answered many, many questions,” Schmidt said. “The committee has been great at making decisions in the best interests of the art community.”

Schmidt and the committee made two different plans, one for a more typical Art-a-Fest outdoor celebration and one for a scaled-down, virtual festival.

“We knew that with the pandemic, we wouldn’t know until the very last minute what we would be able to do,” she said.

Schmidt said that the committee decided that if they couldn’t do a live show due to the pandemic, they wouldn’t just cancel, they would instead divert it to a virtual event to represent the artists.

“Every other art show around here has been canceled,” Schmidt said. “We started out planning for both, but that got to be a lot so we finally just made the call to go online, to be better safe than sorry.”

“Our goal is to support local artists, and make the arts accessible to all members of our community,” the Art-A-Fest committee stated in a release. “Each year our committee works hard to make the event a success for exhibitors and shoppers.”

Schmidt said she felt a responsibility to the local art community when she learned that the committee was looking for someone new to chair the event.

“I didn’t want to see it just end,” she said.

Schmidt was born and raised in Charles City and is a 2003 graduate of Charles City High School. She is currently employed at Zoetis and has been painting and drawing her entire life.

She said she started taking artwork more seriously a couple of years ago. She paints mostly realistic oil paintings of landscapes, portraits and rural midwest Iowa scenes and uses rich, vibrant colors.

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