Catonsville arts festival offers valuable exposure for local nonprofits

Aerial maps of local hiking and biking trails are not what most people expect while visiting the annual Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival.

But they draw people in every time, said Maureen Sweeney Smith, a volunteer and board member with Catonsville Rails to Trails, a nonprofit group that promotes healthy living through trail enhancements.

"Our booth is filled all day with people asking questions," Sweeney Smith said of her group's appearance at the annual September event.

For several years, Catonsville Rails to Trails has used maps and historic photos of Catonsville trolleys to capture visitors' attention, as well as gain new volunteers, members and donations.

"People have been so generous," Sweeney Smith said.

This year, the organization joins more than 20 other nonprofits participating in the free festival, which will be held Sunday, Sept. 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Frederick Road between Bloomsbury and Melvin avenues.

The 39th annual event will feature everything from sculptures and water color paintings to hand-made jewelry and home-made dog treats.

"The whole community comes together for this event," said Teal Cary, festival chairwoman and executive director of the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors and operates the festival.

Between 20,000 and 25,000 people visit the festival each year, she said.

"It's an end-of-summer tradition," Cary said. "School's back in. Vacations are over. This is the last big hurrah in Catonsville."

Along with giving artists and crafters a venue to sell their wares, the festival gives nonprofits a chance to inform the community about their missions and activities, Cary said.

"It's a perfect day for them to get their name out and meet people," Cary said.

At the Catonsville Rails to Trails booth, Sweeney Smith and other volunteers will talk with hikers, bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts about the organization's latest projects, including a 2.2-mile trail that runs from behind Charlestown retirement community to the middle of Catonsville.

"We're just trying to get people interested and involved," Sweeney Smith said.

Over at the Catonsville Senior Center booth, volunteers will hand out newsletters and details about upcoming events, such as classes and a holiday craft fair.

"It's a great marketing tool for us and the neighborhood," said Nicole Sheehan, director of the center on North Rolling Road.

The Catonsville Senior Center has participated in the festival for several years and almost always leaves with a few new members, she said.

All non-profits participating in the festival are chamber members and receive discounted booth rates, Cary said.

The Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival began in 1969 after members of The Woman's Club of Catonsville, the Rolling Hills Women's Club and the Catonsville Business Association — collectively known as the Catonsville Forward Plan — came together to create an event to attract visitors to the town's business district.

The first year, 52 artists, weavers, ceramists and wood carvers gathered at their stands along Frederick Road's 700 block.

Today, the stands have transformed into booths — 256 of them this year. While many of the crafters, artists, food vendors and musicians are local, some come from as a far away as Florida to participate in the festival, Cary said.

More than 30 new crafters will have booths at this year's event.

The KidZone, located on the 800 block of Frederick Road, will also host a few new activities, including a life-sized tic-tac-toe game and a paint-your-own pottery station.

And this year, the Baltimore Ravens play on Monday night instead of Sunday. That could result in one of the festival's biggest crowds yet, Cary said, as often many festival visitors are also involved in tailgating when the Ravens are playing at M & T Bank Stadium.

"The only other thing we need is no rain," Cary said. "If we have a beautiful, glorious, sunny day with no rain and no football, it will be great."

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