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The Art of the Festival


Staging a festival is a warm-weather skill that folks in the Baltimore metropolitan area can rightly boast of mastering, along with the fine arts of sitting on the front stoop, concocting the perfect snowball and extracting the last morsel of meat from a pulverized crab shell.

The city still reigns as the champion of festivalizing, thanks to its continuing series of colorful ethnic fests. But suburbanites have shown in recent years that the festival is just another of the amenities they have brought with them beyond the city limits.

Howard County, for example, has been the site of two popular gatherings -- the Ellicott City May Arts Festival and the Columbia Arts Festival. The Columbia celebration has been held each year since 1989. Its seventh edition starts tomorrow and is expected to be bigger and better than ever.

City dwellers and 'burb denizens alike should have no trouble finding plenty to hold their attention during the festival's 10 days. Music-lovers can choose from among a score or more of artists from various genres playing free on the three stages at Lake Kittamaqundi. In addition to the many local performers, internationally known musicians will be on hand at other venues, such as jazz vocalists Diane Schuur and Cassandra Wilson, jazz pianist George Shearing and classical flutist Eugenia Zukerman, who will team with actress Claire Bloom in a recital blending poetry and music. Admission prices for the big-name acts go up to $25.

Dance, as always, is another festival staple. A highlight this year should be the appearance of the Pilobolus dance theater group. Offerings in drama will include Tana Hicken in her one-woman show, "The Belle of Amherst," and Tel Aviv's TMU-NA Theatre in the generational tale, "Dress." The graphic arts and crafts will be represented at the lakefront by 66 exhibitors from the mid-Atlantic area.

Bring the kids, of course, because there will be loads of fun activities for them. And when you feel a hunger for more than fine art, check out the restaurant court. Opening day of the festival also will feature a celebration of Columbia's birthday. At 6 p.m., the Young Columbians will perform, some of the model city's first settlers will speak and a cake will be cut. What better birthday gift for the town to give to itself and the region than the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

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