On Saturday, June 22, the Mount Airy community enjoyed beautiful weather while coming together to appreciate the creativity and appeal of different artists’ work at the Mount Airy ArtsFest.

Katie Giganti, the chairwoman of the Mount Airy Arts Alliance board and also an artist herself, said in an email interview that she came up with the idea of having the arts festival.

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She explained that she coordinated a smaller version of the arts festival last year that was named “Festival of the Creatives” and was held in downtown Mount Airy. This year the festival moved to Watkins Park.

Giganti said she volunteered to re-establish the Mount Airy Arts Alliance in 2016 and since then she has organized many different art events and projects. The volunteer-operated organization supports artists, performers, and those in the creative sector in and around Mount Airy.

According to Giganti, one of the events they hosted is the “Art Hunt” for Easter, in which they hid 25 paintings throughout the community for people to find and keep.

She said she also helped coordinate the installation of a custom artwork piece with local artist Matt Mercer at Twin Ridge Elementary School.

Giganti emphasized that one of the organization’s many goals is to make the arts accessible for everyone in the community. To that end, on Saturday the attendees were able to paint sculptures that are now being displayed on Main Street at the Town Hall through July 7.

"We want to make the arts attainable and interject creative experiences into the public's everyday life. I like to think that one of the children who painted the 'Light Totems' on Saturday will have been excited enough about their experience doing so that it may have been a memorable enough experience to make them want to pursue art as a career," Giganti said.

Giganti said she is positive that they will host this event next year. This year was a success, she said, with about 6,000 people in attendance.

Mount Airy ArtsFest returns for second year, moves to Watkins Park

The Mount Airy ArtsFest is back for a second year with a beachy theme and a community arts project.

“Everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives! Honestly, at one point I started getting teary eyed when I was looking over the crowd and seeing how many smiles there were,” Giganti said of the attendees. “It was incredible. After months and months of planning, you can never know what the end result will be; I was blown away by the feedback and gratitude from festival-goers as they were leaving.”

Part of the proceeds from the event also benefit Mount Airy Net, which aims to provide emergency assistance for families in need.

Mayor Patrick Rockinberg attended the festival and said he was pleased with the results of it.

"It was fantastic to see so many local artists, combined with so many innovative things to do, like converting our volleyball court into a beach setting, a professional stage with a band, food trucks and a beer garden. And it didn’t hurt to have amazing weather. The place was packed!" he said. "The Mount Airy Arts Alliance did a great job and I appreciate the support the Town staff offered."

Giganti said she is grateful to the community because of all of the help she received that made this event possible — specifically including Brie Foster, Molly Kuehner, Laura Zaborowski and Robin Culkin.

Culkin also had her own booth at the ArtFest, and was kindly showcasing her artwork to the attendees. She graduated from Paier College of Art with an illustration degree.

“My art means so much to me. In my creations I try to make them colorful, whimsical, and fun. I want to produce art that makes people smile,” Culkin said in an email interview. “Most of my work is based on experiences that my children and I have enjoyed over the years of them growing up. They can be based on something as simple as a favorite children’s book or animal.”

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Culkin also said she has been doing festivals for almost a year and for this one specifically she was able to include her daughter, Eliza Culkin, who is also an artist and was excited to be part of this festival.

Eliza, an incoming freshman in high school, loves to design characters and create stories with them digitally. She works with many different mediums, including pen and ink, graphite, and watercolor.

“I try to make my artwork very magical and have an overall unified theme that relates to the character in the drawing and their story. My characters and stories are inspired by many different things but mostly my favorite video games, animations, and music,” she said. “Usually I get an idea while listening to music that reminds me of one of my characters, then I do a few sketches and write down lyrics from the song that relate to the idea. From there I sketch everything out in my digital art program and start the drawing.”

She also said she has been participating in art shows for about a year now, and although she normally shares a booth with her mom, at the Mount Airy ArtsFest she was able to have her own.

“I really enjoyed the festival! It was amazing to be able to talk about my work and to see that people were actually interested in it,” she said. “It was also amazing to see other artists and learn about what they do. I believe it’s important for people to come to these types of festivals because from seeing someone’s artwork, since it’s a part of them, you can really get to know someone from their art. It’s also just truly amazing to see people that from your own community do amazing and unique artwork in all types of forms."

Billie Lookingbill, the owner of Wild Caught Glass Creations, also participated in this festival. She illustrates her art using vintage windows from old houses that she sands, repairs and seals. She also uses broken and crushed glass, sea shells and sea glass, marbles, charms, feathers and old horseshoes to create her pieces.

Lookingbill said she participated in an art festival for the first time last year, at the Festival of the Creatives hosted by the alliance. Since then, she has been part of four or five so far on the Eastern Shore.

“The Mount Airy ArtsFest was a fantastic experience!” she said. “It was a super nice crowd of people having a great time on a Saturday — kids, adults and seniors! There was plenty to do and great food and entertainment. From a vendor perspective, sales were great and the event was well organized and volunteer staff was very helpful.”

There were vendors that came from other cities in the state, including Robert Alex Burke, who come from Baltimore. Burke, of Wolves Art Collective, and his girlfriend Brandy Lee Cook do acrylic on canvas paintings, hand-drawn kid art kits, and other crafts, and they have been participating in festivals for about four months.

Burke had a great experience at this festival.

“We were impressed by the organization of the Mount Airy Arts Alliance, especially in terms of the setup and traffic. It was a breeze to set up and break down,” he said. “The park alone had a certain majestic nature to it, and the view from upon the hill was picturesque down to the giant water tower with the name on the side. We were able to walk around towards the end of the festival and interact with other vendors and the community and found people from all surrounding areas.”

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Allyson Cowels from Red Mosaic Jewelry also attended the event and had her own booth selling her jewelry creations. She is a native of Connecticut and is a self-taught artisan.

Cowels said in an email interview that she has been participating in festivals and local farmers markets in the Washington, D.C., metro area for four years.

“My designs range from minimalist (depending how I am feeling on that day) to BOLD pieces full of colors and/or earth-tones,” she said. “I am obsessed with natural gemstones (with the highest quality-AAA), recycled materials add a vintage flare with seed beads, wires, coppers, and crystals.”

Cowels said she had an amazing experience at the festival.

“I've enjoyed interesting conversations with strangers and meeting new customers who loved and complimented my work, people-watching and enjoying the family's pet dogs strut their stuff with the most adorable outfits (lol). It was simply a fabulous summer day at the park to spend time with family and friends,” she said.

Giganti, the Arts Alliance chairwoman, emphasized the importance of having these types of events in the community. She said research has shown that the arts can have a positive economic impact on rural communities.

“...Art brings communities together. Sometimes we become so self absorbed that we forget that we're part of a larger 'we.' Listening to music or a performance and creating art can make people feel alive and connected to each other again. That's so important. We can't forget that,” she said.

For more information about the Mount Airy Arts Alliance, you may contact them via email at mtartsalliance@gmail.com or you may visit their Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/mtairyartsalliance/, to learn about their upcoming events.

If you are interested in learning more about these artists and their work, you may visit their websites or contact them via email at: Giganti, www.katiegiganti.com; Robin and Eliza Culkin, robinculkinartstudios@gmail.com; Billie Lookingbill, billie.coursey@gmail.com; Robert Alex Burke, wolvesartcollective.com; and Allyson Cowels, www.redmosaicjewelry.com.

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