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Festival of Arts sets a record

The Baltimore Sun

As it wrapped up its 20th season Saturday, the Columbia Festival of the Arts reached a record for attendance at its ticketed events.

From June 6 through June 23, the festival filled just over 80 percent of the roughly 8,000 seats available at the 12 ticketed events, according to the festival's executive director, Nichole Hickey.

"We've never gotten there [before]," Hickey said, estimating attendance to be about 15 percent higher than in previous years.

Thousands more people attended free and paid art exhibits, lectures, master classes and readings as well as the free, three-day LakeFest event.

"It was a great 18 days," Hickey said. "There was so much variety and clearly the community caught on to this and were really engaged, as well as people from outside the community."

She said the festival has made some good planning decisions, such as not scheduling more than one event on any evening. The staff has also worked on finding the right combination of programming.

Several events sold out, including Congo Square, featuring Wynton Marsalis, Yacub Addy, Odadaa and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra; the dance-illusionist company MOMIX; and a high tea with novelist Carrie Brown, who is a former Howard County journalist.

True Colors, a 1980s-themed musical written by Columbia resident Greg Leader, also sold out. Hickey said the festival has been trying to reach more patrons in their 30s, and the combination of a familiar topic and more affordable ticket prices seemed to work for that show.

Hickey said some familiar names are expected to sell out, but a real attendance boost came because people were willing to look at new acts.

"We also bring in some up-and-coming emerging artists people haven't heard of," she said. "People are starting to figure out you don't have to know who they are. You can just go, and they will be good."

LakeFest, held June 8-10, appeared larger than ever, Hickey said, with artisans and craftspeople reporting excellent sales.

Lightning required the festival to cancel a LakeFest performance by the Celtic band Gaelic Storm on June 8, but Hickey said LakeFest was crowded Saturday. She believes that more than 30,000 people attended over that weekend.

Severe storms also forced cancellation of a concert by the blues band the Millers on June 13 after two of the band members were unable to fly into Baltimore. The free concert at Centennial Park had been expected to draw several thousand listeners.

On Thursday, more storms pushed a concert by the Hampton ROCK String Quartet under a tent at the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge. Hickey said it turned into a "chilly but intimate evening. ... They played a really long time."

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