Festival hopes effects will last Leaders are eager to develop support for art and artists


Columbia Festival of the Arts organizers say that while this year's combination of workshops and performances will last only 10 days, it should have a long-term impact on the county's cultural community -- from established artists to first-time art seekers.

The festival -- in its 10th year -- begins tomorrow and provides 250 performances and 100 family-oriented workshops.

National names range from Aretha Franklin to film director Perry Miller Adato to Takoma Park's Liz Lerman Dance Exchange.

The list of international performers includes the Junction Avenue Theatre Company of Johannesburg, South Africa, samba king Jose Alberto "El Canario" and the music of Canada's Quartetto Gelato.

Katherine Knowles, executive director of the festival, said about 38,000 people are expected to attend this year, up from last year's 32,000.

To accommodate the crowds, organizers planned more daytime events, scheduled more events at the same time and placed nearly all venues near Route 175, concentrating traffic in that area.

About 55 percent of visitors will be from outside Howard County, bringing about $2 million to the area, said Karen Justice, Howard County Tourism Council Inc. executive director.

But to festival organizers, more important than the festival's impact on traffic or the economy is its effect on the local cultural community.

'Shining a light'

As more arts groups become partners of the event -- a record 11 groups this year -- the festival will create long-term opportunities for the arts community, said Knowles.

The partnerships allow a variety of members of the arts community to learn about one another and reach larger audiences, she said.

"By shining a light on other art organizations, more people will be aware of what is here," she said.

Richard McCauley, president of the board that runs the festival, agreed. "The degree of exposure, from southern Pennsylvania to Virginia, allows arts partners to reach communities they usually don't," he said.

The greater exposure, Knowles believes, will encourage more groups to stay in the area. For example, Lerman's Dance Exchange -- which tours nationally -- has put together a three-year tour of Maryland with the help of festival organizers.

At the festival, the Lerman group will appear Sunday and hold a five-day community workshop.

"We are always looking for ways to engage the community with the artist," Knowles said. "We put great value in that."

McCauley said of the festival: "It is a marriage of a major community event with a major arts event."

Chance to see African art

For local residents, McCauley believes the diversity in this year's lineup, with its emphasis on Africa, will expose them to African and African-American art.

"There's a unique opportunity for you to take a journey into the contributions African-Americans have made to art," Knowles said.

It also comes as people are becoming more interested in Africa, said Doris Ligon, founder and director of the African Art Museum of Maryland.

"Since the president went to Africa [in May], there is heightened awareness," Ligon said. "I think the president having gone is still affecting people."

Diversity and community

Organizers also believe this diverse group of performers will attract residents of all backgrounds, creating a sense of community.

"It's a time when people come together who usually don't come together," Knowles said. "One of the important things arts contribute to the community is that it shows the similarities and differences in cultures."

Knowles said she would like to continue expanding the event next year by adding a weeklong film festival about women and film.

She would also like to make Merriweather Post Pavilion the centerpiece of the festival.

But she says organizers approach these changes very carefully.

"While some people think we are taking a huge jump, we are being very pragmatic," Knowles said. "It's going to happen by taking steps one year at a time."

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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