Submitted by Belinda Wilson, on behalf of the Kawartha Arts Festival Board
With the 30th Annual Kawartha Arts Festival behind us, we’ve had time to reflect on how we got here, and what the future holds.
The first event was held in the Bobcaygeon Library in 1989, but it had already outgrown that space by the time the Festival opened, and so it moved to the Ag Building at the Fenelon Fairgrounds the next year, with 24 local artists exhibiting their work.
A silent auction was held in the middle of the building, with pieces donated by the artists. As the number of artists grew, the space was required for booths – now artists donate pieces which are used for hourly draws all weekend.
The Labour Day Weekend event used to kick off with a Friday night Wine & Cheese party for the artists to relax and socialize after getting their exhibits set up and ready.
Festival organizer Maud Skoog remembers that “the opening used to be a pretty big deal – the Reeve of the Village and other dignitaries were always on hand to do the official ribbon cutting”. One year, Maud recalls, Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander attended, and took the time to greet all the artists.
As the Festival grew, it began to attract artists from across the province – many opted to arrive Saturday morning to set up, and the Friday evening event fell by the wayside. Now, with as many as 110 artists converging just a few hours before opening, Saturday morning is hectic, to say the least. Artist packages must be delivered to each booth, last minute glitches and relocations have to be dealt with, and no matter what, at 10:00 AM everything has to be ready when the gates open.
In the 1990’s the Festival introduced “Young at Art” – this opportunity for budding young artists to participate has helped to launch the careers of several artists, including local painter Markus Leydolt and well-known Toronto artist Peter Rotter.
The Kawartha Arts Festival continues to evolve as times change. In the early years, only original pieces were permitted to be exhibited. However, in order to allow the artists to generate more sales, prints are now allowed.
A new and popular addition in recent years has been the Fabric Art tent, and as trends shift and new (or newly rejuvenated) art forms present themselves, the Festival committee will continue to reach out to these artists, inviting them to submit their work for consideration.
Live music keeps the Festival visitors entertained, and the Fenelon Ag Society food booth keeps them fed as they enjoy the last days of summer surrounded by the beauty of art in all its forms.
What brings artists back year after year, and what attracts new artists, is the Festival’s reputation of being “by artists, for artists.” Many have commented that it feels like a family gathering, and a spirit of community is tangible as the weekend unfolds. They enjoy the little treats which are delivered to their booth on Saturday morning, and welcome the personal attention as committee members make the rounds throughout the weekend to ensure everything is going smoothly.
Maud credits the support from the community as a big reason the Festival has continued to flourish; the ongoing sponsorship and assistance by Kawartha Dairy, Cable Cable, Pinder Electric, Handley Lumber, BOB-FM, Oldies 96.7, Classical 103.1 FM, Van Halteren Music, Grr8 Finds Markets, Fenelon Agricultural Society, The Kawartha Store, and The Village Shop has always been very much appreciated.
As with any community endeavours, KAF volunteers are indispensable – from the Festival Board and its year-round work, to the folks young and old who help out in so many ways over the course of the Festival weekend, each one’s efforts are vital to its success, year after year.
Moving forward, the Festival plans to reintroduce a Friday evening event for participating artists and is looking at a new layout for the grounds in order to accommodate more marquee tents and to change things up a bit.
Now in its 31st year, the Kawartha Arts Festival continues to be the largest juried outdoor art festival in Southern Ontario – Labour Day Weekend 2020 will see the Fenelon Fairgrounds alive with artists, music and a celebration of the best of the human creative spirit.