ORGANIZERS OF THE Columbia Festival of the Arts deserve much credit for making their event an annual rite that ushers in summer with a delightful breeze of music, drama and visual arts.
Begun as a three-day affair in 1988, the festival has ballooned to a 10-day celebration of food and fun that attracts people from throughout Howard County, and the region as well.
It's premature to describe anything in youthful Columbia as a "tradition," but the festival's success is undeniable. The event swings into gear today, with a healthy budget of $415,000 and projections for 23,000 visitors. About 40 percent of them are expected to come from outside the county. The only local event that draws more tourists is August's Howard County Fair.
"I feel like we've arrived. People are calling us," said Lynne Nemeth, the festival's manager director. This year's show has signed some big names, including jazz legends Joe Williams and Dave Brubeck and Grammy-winner Richard Stoltzman.
Like Columbia, the festival's attractions are diverse, with art from Japan, Latin America and China. There are performances of works by Monteverdi and Mozart, satire, folk and dance music. Theater-goers can drop into Howard Community College's Theater Outback for "From the Mississippi Delta," to see a story of an African-American woman who rises from poverty to power.
Sculptor Hou Rong will demonstrate his expertise in reproducing the art of ancient China and Abu the Flute Maker will bring some of the unusual musical instruments he creates from discarded materials. There's a 29th birthday celebration for Columbia, too, featuring free activities by the lakefront.
This is also Ms. Nemeth's last festival. She announced last month that she was resigning to pursue travel and photography. But she leaves behind an impressive legacy that she built from scratch, organizing that first festival eight years ago without a desk, before graduating to hand-me-down equipment.
She and her colleagues can take pride in what they have accomplished. Many urban ethnic festivals honor the heritage of individual groups. This party brings everyone together to celebrate the melting pot that is America -- and Columbia.
Pub Date: 6/14/96