Festival provides artistic outlet

By Molly Stephey

Rachel Haynes had a busy weekend. As one of 22 local artists at Champaign’s first-ever Downtown Festival of the Arts, Haynes spent the weekend showcasing her work, “Stray Cat Art” at Champaign’s West Side Park.

Together with her husband, Alan, Haynes creates unique art using leftover scraps of metal from their farm in Altona, Ill. A certified welder, she is skilled at the art of metalworking and even displayed her talents for festival patrons. Haynes donated all sculptures created during the demonstrations to the Champaign Park District for an auction. She expects profits – which will be used to create an art scholarship – to reach nearly $1,000.

The festival included art, music and food from a variety of local residents. Two large tents were set up for live shows and dance performances. Participants included the C-U Symphony and a Middle Eastern belly dancing group. Additional tents displayed a wide variety of art, ranging from oil paintings and jewelry to metal sculptures and henna body art. Food vendors like Monical’s Pizza and Smoothie King set up shop for wandering festival patrons.

The C-U Potter’s Club and the Champaign Park District’s Pottery Program displayed their pottery creations and offered interested passers-by an opportunity to experience the pottery wheel.

One of the event’s main organizers, Kristy Bolton, said the event is a response to how the local arts scene has taken off in the last few years. Bolton, the Champaign Park District’s special events and volunteers manager, believes the renaissance can be attributed to the burgeoning downtown.

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“The arts are becoming a big thing in Champaign and Urbana, so we wanted to put on a festival that would focus on that and celebrate that, and hopefully help keep the arts growing,” she said.

Bolton said park staff invited local artists “that we were familiar with and thought would be a good fit for the festival.” In the future, artists will have to submit their work to be judged by the Champaign Park District, who will then decide which artists will participate in the festival.

Sporting a shirt that read “Well-Known Central Illinois Artist,” Larry Steinbauer said a festival like this one is long overdue.

Steinbauer, a six-year resident of Champaign, has been creating art for over 30 years. He said he is happy to see that artists like himself, who don’t hold professional degrees in art, are receiving more attention and appreciation.

“I’ve had a hard time getting discovered in this town,” he said. “So this is a great opportunity for me.”

Sujata Dey-Koontz, a lifetime resident of Champaign, agrees.

As a self-described “closet artist,” Dey-Koontz said she is encouraged by the community support for local artists. With downtown coffee shops offering their walls as displays, artists of all kinds are now feeling welcome, she said. This, in turn, promotes more creation, diversity and originality within the arts community.

“I think that local artists in general are now feeling like, ‘Well, if they’re able to do something, then I’m not going to be as shy or feel like my art only has to be in my basement. I can actually bring it out into the community,'” she said.

Haynes said the festival offered a unique chance to interact with the community while receiving valuable feedback.

“Our work is very diverse and whimsical and the best part of what we do is seeing people have a good time with it,” she said.

Parkland Community College sophomore Trisha Young attended the festival and really liked what she saw. Though she has been living in Champaign for two years, Young said she is new to downtown events like the festival.

“The longer you’re here, the more you hear about stuff like this,” she said. “I don’t have an expert opinion but, from what I see, there’s a lot of great work here.”