Peep this, Carroll County ― one of the more popular attractions in the area is about to get underway, with a new venue but the same sweet atmosphere.
The Carroll County Arts Council’s annual PEEPshow is open to the public beginning Friday, March 26, and runs through April 5. It’s taking place at TownMall of Westminster, in the former Sears location, instead of its usual home at Carroll Arts Center.
Last year’s art show fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic and was held virtually only. While there is still an online competition, the PEEPshow is back to being an in-person event in 2021. That means people can come to the mall to view and vote for their favorite works of art created by using Peeps, a colorful marshmallow, usually chick-shaped candy.
The move was made official in February, and the arts council staff recently completed its work on transforming some 15,000 square feet of what used to be Sears into a gallery route for the public to see candy-inspired creations, and also have some space to purchase themed merchandise once they’ve navigated the Peeps path.
“It’s really brilliant in that it’s a free event, but it’s our largest fundraiser of the year,” said Judy Morley, executive director of the arts council. “Once people get in, they all want to vote for their favorites.”
There are more than 100 pieces of art along the trail inside the mall space, and more than 130 counting the remaining online entries. The exhibit also includes space for people to view the online entries on TV screens.
Admission is free, but chips must be purchased in order for people to cast votes. Voting opens Friday at 10 a.m., and the entire gallery can be viewed (and voted for) online. Awards will be given for grand prize, audience favorite, sponsor’s choice, and artistic excellence.
The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania company Just Born began making Peeps in 1953 and for decades has been the No. 1 non-chocolate Easter candy brand in the U.S., according to a news release from the arts council. The 2020 show featured 86 entries that used more than 17,600 Peeps combined.
This year’s PEEPshow patrons will get a glimpse of a variety of artwork.
There’s a Bernie Sanders presidential inauguration-inspired piece, a pair of full-size Elvis Presley portraits that stand more than 6 feet tall, and a working jukebox with colored lights and covered in Peeps.
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The popular Pokemon character Pikachu, or Peep-achu in this case, is back for another PEEPshow visit. So is video game hero Sonic the Hedgehog. Mario of Nintendo fame joins him along the line, as well as several depictions of nature, architecture, and pop culture.
And there are plenty of colors in the rainbow on display throughout the exhibit.
Morley and Rosalyn Thackston, retail and marketing coordinator at the arts council, said chips will be sanitized regularly after people cast their votes in person. Many pieces in the exhibit are also for sale, and they’re noted along the route.
For those who don’t want to touch anything but still be in-person, each exhibit has a QR code associated with it and people can use their smartphones to vote that way.
Because of the entire PEEPshow being virtual last year, Morley said she’s hopeful the public comes out in solid numbers to see the artwork. Past shows attracted around 25,000 or so people, and many years brought in some $100,000 in fundraising. That dollar amount went down in a big way last year amid the pandemic, but Morley and Thackston said they hope the arts council enjoys an uptick in 2021.
Going from close to 3,000 square feet of space, at Carroll Arts Center, to roughly 15,000 at the mall ― and having the exhibit entirely on flat ground rather than multiple levels ― should go a long way in determining whether this year’s PEEPshow is a hit.
“It’s not a perfect scenario either way,” said Morley, who didn’t want to commit to next year’s PEEPshow plans just yet. “It’s up in the air. Logistically as a staff, it’s much easier to do at the Arts Center. We’ve had to rent U-Hauls to move all our stuff here. rent U-Hauls to move it all back. ... It’s not the most efficient, definitely easier at our building. But, we just have to see where things are a year from now.”