There have been numerous open house events at the C Street Gallery, Venus Theatre Play Shack and other venues along C Street since the area was designated Laurel's official Arts District last year.
In addition, members of the Laurel Arts District Committee have developed a blog and Facebook page to promote events on C Street, parts of Main Street and the few other blocks and alleys included in the arts district.
Now, on June 9, committee members are taking an even bigger step to increase traffic in the Arts District by holding the first C Street Arts Festival, which they hope to make an annual event.
"We're trying to grow up now, and this is our christening event," said Resa Moran, vice president of the Laurel Arts District Committee. "After spending months trying to get community input on ways to make the district better known and talking to artists about their needs, we decided to bring attention to the district by featuring local artists at our own festival," she said.
On festival day, C Street will be lined with three tents where bands will perform, storytellers will weave tales, poetry will be recited and a bit of theater will be acted on stage. Local professional fine artists will also have their works on display along the street for browsing and purchase.
Moran said the fine arts participants submitted their works to a four-member jury before being approved for the festival.
"We turned down only a few because although we want to be professional, we also want to be inclusive," Moran said. "All of the actors, musicians and poets at the festival will be quality artists," Moran said.
Cartoonist Clay Harris, of Silver Spring, passed the test to have some of his collages and other framed pieces on display at the festival. He thinks the event will give the Arts District a needed boost and provide a different type of venue for local artists.
"I think it was time for Laurel to expand to something like this because this is filling a neglected area, a void there," Harris said. "Arts districts have developed at the other end of Route 1 in Hyattsville, so I believe it can trickle up here."
Which is just what the Arts District Committee members are hoping will happen, especially as the city's population continues to increase and become more diverse.
Moran, who is in charge of selecting the music for the festival, said local bands will perform a wide variety of musical styles, including the B-Side band, playing pop and rock; the Baltimore band E.M. Spencer, playing covers from the '50s and '60s and some original music; and a bluegrass band.
In addition, Moran said, 15 local poets will read poems throughout the day.
"There will also be a drum circle, if people want to bring their drums down, and we'll have a fiddle jam with bluegrass artist Alan Oresky," she said.
Deb Randall, owner of Venus Theatre, will be performing with her band, the Sheshes, and Venus Theatre will be open throughout the day. Randall is a member of the Arts District Committee and received a grant from the Prince George's Arts and Humanities Council for the festival's theater tent, which will have a variety of performers.
"There will be a series of monologues performed and Melinda Burdette, a trained opera singer who's performed in all of the D.C.-area theater houses, will do a one-hour cabaret act," Randall said. "We'll also be doing theater workshops for kids. We'll show them things they can do in my summer theater camps and offer two-for-one deals on registration that day."
No alcohol will be permitted at this family-friendly festival, but there will food vendors on hand and an ice cream stand.
A catalyst for arts
Organizers are not sure how many people will turn out, but they are hoping it will be the beginning of increased visibility for the Arts District. So do officials in the city, which is one of the event's sponsors.
"We're very excited about the festival and hope it will be a catalyst to move the Arts District forward," said Karl Brendle, the city's director of community planning and business services. "This is a big step toward the district becoming a state-certified arts district in the next year or so."
Being certified by the state is something the Arts District Committee members hope to achieve as well. That would open up state funding for the district, and its events would be promoted on Maryland's tourism, arts and other websites.
"The state certification is a two-year-process, and we hope to get it so more people will hear about the high-quality things in the arts happening in Laurel," Moran said. "Right now, we're also talking to city officials about getting permanent signs and markers, like the ones for the Historic District, for the Arts District."
In the meantime, rain or shine, the festival will happen, and if it has a good turnout, Moran says they will hold it twice next year, in the fall and spring.
"This is our first year doing this, so we don't know how many people will come, but a lot of what we're doing is preparation for building the district up for an even bigger festival next year," Moran said. "We had more artists and performers wanting to participate this year than we had time to schedule them, so there's definitely a big demand for this. We expect next year's festival to be even bigger and better."
C Street Arts Festival is Saturday, June 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on C Street, off Main Street in downtown Laurel. Call 202-236-4078.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun