From singers to psychics, arts festival is a rich mix

The Baltimore Sun

The lineup for this year's Columbia Festival of the Arts includes Afro-Caribbean dance, gospel and blues, flying gymnasts, psychic predictions and Judy Collins.

Clearly, executive director Nichole Hickey is serious when she says her staff was looking for a wide range of artistic experiences for the 2008 season, which will run June 13 through June 28.

"I think we really put the focus on diversity in terms of genre as well as culture," Hickey said, "plus a couple of big names we always try to throw in the mix."

Folk singer Judy Collins, who is scheduled to perform June 24, is someone Hickey said the festival has wanted to book for some time.

"We're just thrilled we've been able to put that together," she said. The 750-seat James Rouse Theater is a smaller, more intimate environment than other places Collins has performed at in the area, and "that's why we wanted to present her in our facility."

Veronica Kapoor, an eighth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School, was the winner of the festival's fifth annual artwork competition for youth. Her artwork will be featured on the festival's posters and brochures.

Kapoor said her passions include drawing, dance and piano and she incorporated all three in her work. "The thing I see in common ... is the smooth flow, so I tried to show that by having [the images] branch out smoothly."

She said she was excited to win the contest, which her private art teacher encouraged her to enter. "It makes me feel really good because it is not only for me, but other people can appreciate it too," she said.

The festival will kick off June 13 with the free, three-day family-oriented LakeFest Celebration in Columbia Town Center, which will include crafts and activities for children, the annual sidewalk chalk drawing contest, a kinetic art parade and the Howard County Boat Float.

Musical highlights include rhythm and blues artist Ryan Shaw, Latin dance band Grupo Fantasma and the Glenelg Jazz Ensemble with Deanna Bogart. Visual artists from the community will turn birdhouses into works of art for a public display and sale.

The festival is cooperating with the county Department of Recreation and Parks to present another free event: the first concert in the Comcast Sunset Serenades series at Centennial Park. The June 18 concert will feature The Holmes Brothers' mixture of gospel, blues, country, pop and soul music.

Hickey said taking the festival to a variety of venues, including ones outside Columbia, has been one of her goals.

For example, there will be a high tea and book reading June 26 with novelist Manil Suri at Historic Savage Mill, presented in partnership with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Also, the Belmont Conference Center will host a dinner and outdoor concert June 25 with Sweet Plantain, a string quartet that combines Latin, classical and jazz styles.

Local art collectors will share some of their favorite works in A Collecting Affair, to be held jointly at Howard Community College and the Columbia Art Center. The Howard County Center for the Arts will offer a show by its 14 resident artists in one gallery and work by Marisa DiPaola and Megan Auman in its second gallery.

On June 19, the three venues will host receptions and free shuttle service will carry guests to the different sites.

Along with a diversity of styles, Hickey said the festival is reaching out to a diverse audience, including youth, teenagers and young adults.

The Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Company, which uses colorful air-filled props that move around the stage, is a show Hickey said could be enjoyed by entire families on June 22. "It just brings a smile to your face," she said. "It's delightful."

Festival organizers also expect to draw different age groups to check out STREB vs. Gravity on June 20 and magician Mike Super on June 21.

STREB offers a gymnastic creative movement performance that incorporates physical feats, large contraptions and slapstick comedy. Super won the television contest Phenomenon, and will perform illusions, interact with the audience, and attempt to predict the next day's newspaper headline.

Two dance companies that each combine ballet, modern and Afro-Caribbean dance forms round out the 2008 festival season. The Luna Negra Dance Theater, which also incorporates Latino cultural elements, will appear June 17. Garth Fagan Dance, which will appear June 27, is led by the Tony Award-winning choreographer of the Broadway production of The Lion King.

The festival plans to announce the finale performer for June 28 at the end of March.

Leading up to the festival, supporters can enjoy a fundraising dinner and performance by comedian Paula Poundstone on May 9 at the Spear Center. Individual tickets are $150 and available only by calling the festival office.

Times, locations and ticket information is available online at www.columbiafestival.com or by calling 410-715-3044. Tickets go on sale April 30.

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