When a free outdoor arts festival called ARTreach takes place at the Long Reach Village Center on Saturday, June 20 from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m., it'll be a fun-filled day of entertainment and art-making activities. Its impact may resonate beyond that single day, however, as plans move forward to revitalize the village center.
"It's an exciting event for the re-imagining of Long Reach," said Mark Thompson, who is director of downtown redevelopment for the Howard County government's economic development authority. "The Columbia Art Center is right there, and the arts are an area that we thought could generate a new synergy for the village center."
The county owns most of the village center's retail space, which has been afflicted with vacancies in recent years. It does not own the Columbia Art Center, which is part of the Columbia Association.
Thompson said the series of community input-oriented meetings will continue into the fall, and that the various redevelopment options under consideration will lead to an urban renewal plan. He added that the county would then sell its retail real estate holdings there to a private developer.
Although the future look of Long Reach Village Center has yet to be finalized, the longtime presence of the Columbia Art Center and the upcoming one-day festival are strong indications that the arts will figure into that future.
ARTreach was organized by the Howard County Arts Council in partnership with the Columbia Association, Long Reach Community Association, Columbia Art Center, Howard County government, Celebration Church and Columbia Festival of the Arts.
"Our goal is to create some activities that will engage the community with the village center and envision a new use for it," said Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council.
The new use to which West refers potentially involves relocating her organization there. The Howard County Arts Council currently has its galleries, artist studios, theater and administrative office in a former elementary school in Ellicott City.
West emphasized that no decision has been made about such a move and that it's all still in the talking stages.
"We're in a suburban neighborhood, but a more centralized location would help us and it makes sense to be in a more densely populated area. I do like the idea of the arts helping in a revitalization project," West said about some of the advantages of making a move.
Much would depend, though, on whether the revamped Long Reach Village Center architecturally would offer enough space for the Howard County Arts Council, which occupies 27,000 square feet at its present facility in Ellicott City.
"We can't just be shoehorned into something that doesn't fit," West observed.
Although a relocated Howard County Arts Council would be just a paint splash away from the Columbia Art Center, West stressed that "there is no talk of a merger with the Columbia Art Center. They would remain two separate entities, but partners."
"We're very supportive of the redevelopment of Long Reach and how it involves the arts community," said Liz Henzey, director of the Columbia Art Center, which opened in the Long Reach Village Center in 1974. "I think it's a win-win situation."
In the immediate future, ARTreach seems like a win-win event.
Live entertainment includes Beale Street Puppets, Han Pan Korean Cultural Center, Kenny Kohlhaas, Christylez Bacon and Wytold, La Unica, Damon Foreman and CAISO Steel Drum Band.
Artist demonstrations include woodturning by the Mid-Maryland Woodturners Club; chainsaw carving by Caliber Carvings; Chinese brush painting by Yolanda Koh; Brazilian martial arts by A.L.C.A.; ceramics by the Columbia Art Center; origami by Shawnee Holmberg of Shabana; fiber arts by the Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore; and watercolor painting by Joyce Bell, Stephanie Lyons and Chaya Schapiro.
Among the other activities are a community totem project with Caryl Henry Alexander, open-air photo booth, face painting, hands-on art-making, mime, caricatures, magic, stilt walking, costumed characters and balloon twisting.
A pre-festival mosaic mural workshop conducted by artist Susan Stockman will have its first panel unveiled on June 20, with the completed mosaic installed later this year. By that time, local residents also may have a more complete picture of what to expect at Long Reach Village Center in the years ahead.