CU Boneyard Arts Festival returns for in-person viewing

By Carolina Garibay

For over a year, artists and creators were unable to gather to share and promote their work. But as the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 increases, so does the ability for artists to attend in-person events where they can both promote their work and get inspired by other artists.

One of this year’s in-person events is the Boneyard Arts Festival, an annual event in Champaign-Urbana that showcases local artists’ work and creativity. This year’s festival is June 18-20 and takes place in over 50 venues throughout C-U.

“It kind of grew out of this idea of going around to lots of different venues and exploring different art, and so at Boneyard, anybody can be a venue,” said Kelly White, executive director of 40 North, the Champaign County Arts Council and professor of art history at Parkland College.

She said, along with traditional venues such as art galleries, the festival will also feature non-traditional venues, such as salons, banks and bars, which allows for more than the discovery of different artists.

“Not only does that then impact the creative community because it gets people out to discover new art, see installations make connections and kind of challenge people, you discover spaces and businesses that you didn’t know,” White said. “So, the impact is not only creative but also economic, so that makes it very special because it kind of is connecting businesses and artists together to celebrate the arts.”

White is also an artist and has been painting and drawing since she was a kid. She said her experience as an artist has helped her better understand what artists need.

“I think it kind of helps me work with the artists and understand what the challenges are and what kind of validation and feelings they have,” White said.

So, when the pandemic forced 40 North to cancel the in-person festival, White said she was heartbroken.

“It made me understand the parts of my job that feed me the most, which are the people,” White said. “I couldn’t be with them, I couldn’t hang art, see art in person. I couldn’t look out and see people all gathered together and connecting with each other and sharing ideas.”

White said, in times of hardship like COVID-19, people often look toward art as a source of comfort and escape from the rough reality going on around them, and being unable to easily and effectively provide that escape was really difficult.

She also said the pandemic showed us what a world without live activities, music, performances or art could be like, which she said was really shocking and sad for her to see.

“It’s a dual lesson of how critical it is for healing and comfort,” she said.

Though 40 North was still able to hold a virtual Boneyard Arts Festival, White said it wasn’t the same as the in-person event, as people were probably dealing with screen fatigue.

The lack of in-person, arts-related events is making this year’s festival even more special and exciting, White said.

“I’m absolutely thrilled because I think it’s a really great building year to kind of build back,” she said. “I’m just really excited for this weekend. I’m going to really get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time and see some amazing art, and it’s just going to be so invigorating.”

White also said the festival is also an opportunity for artists and viewers to heal from some of the trauma and anxiety COVID-19 caused. Artists can express their feelings about COVID-19 through their art, which viewers can feel as they view and process the art, White said.

“It’s going to help heal me,” she said. “I’m hoping it’s going to help heal the artists that are out displaying and then everybody that’s going to join and come see. Hopefully, they will feel it, too.”

The Boneyard Arts Festival starts June 18 at 9 a.m. and will continue through June 20 in various locations throughout C-U. For more information about the festival and specific venue listings, visit boneyardartsfestival.org.