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Annual Labor Day Festival Brings Art and Music to Indiana

Published by Darell Anastasia

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Fine artists, crafters, musicians, and art enthusiasts alike will take to the streets of downtown Bloomington this Labor Day weekend during 34th annual Forth Street Festival.

Since its humble beginnings in 1977, when two local potters collaborated with the hope of bringing a high quality art fair to Bloomington, the Forth Street Festival now draws crowds of over 40,000. That tradition will continue Saturday, September 4 and Sunday, September 5, as 120 booths fill Forth and Grant streets with vendors of everything from jewelry and ceramics to paintings and fine art prints.

“Last year, over 42,000 people attended the Festival, 10,500 from over 50 miles away,” said Dawn Steffey Adams, member of the Forth Street Festival’s organizing committee. “There should be quite a bit of unusual, interesting, and high quality work for the 2018 show.”

Forth Street Festival organizers’ mission is to “create an atmosphere of appreciation for art as well as an opportunity for artists to showcase their work by presenting a high quality event.”

This year the committee had a record of nearly 450 applications to fill the 120 booth spaces, and their rigorous admissions standards help ensure that Forth Street Fest visitors experience only the best. The Art Fair Source Book ranks the event in the top 50 best shows in the nation.

“In an effort to have balance, we strive to have no media category comprise more than 15% of the show,” explained Steffey Adams. “That means some categories like jewelry, photography and ceramics will require a higher score for acceptance because of the higher volume of applications in those categories.”

In addition to quality craftsmanship, the festival’s new layout, which was implemented for the first time last year, is a draw for both artists and visitors. Booths will be set up starting at the Bloomington Fire Station and running all the way to Indiana Street, allowing plenty of elbow room for patron and exhibitor.

“We do a survey during the show, asking the show attendees about the festival,” said Martina Celerin, member of the Forth Street Festival’s organizing committee. “That keeps us in touch with what the public thinks. Last year we asked about the new show layout, and over 98% of the people surveyed loved it. So we’ve kept then new layout again this year.”

The festival committee’s dedication to serving the public and supporting the arts is reflected throughout the planning process. The admissions panel may demand only the best, but the committee does award first, second, and third place prizes— close to $3,000 worth— to exhibitors in 2D and 3D art.

Previous day-of-show jurors include operator of Nashville, IN’s Gallery by the Green Joe Gore and IU associate professor of ceramics Malcolm Mobutu Smith. The festival committee is committed to diversifying their jury each year, trying to make their selections as regional as possible.

“The jurors for both the applications and day-of show judging start as nominations from the committee,” Steffey Adams said. “Occasionally we have a day of show juror who has judged before, but we try to wait a number of years before asking that juror to help us again. This committee tries really hard to have fresh juries every year.”

The Forth Street Festival also provides visitors with a full live entertainment roster, which this year will include the Bloomington Youth Philharmonic and the International Dance Discovery Belly Dance troupe.

The festival also has an annual hands-on children’s art booth, inviting the whole community to get involved in the creation of art. Last year 5,000 people participated in the creation of the project, which utilized recycled objects to create mosaic panels for the Bloomington Entertainment and Arts District, or BEAD. The panels are now being sealed and are expected to be displayed later this summer.

“We’re delighted that the projects in the community art booth are so popular,” Celerin said. “I love the idea that as a community we can come together, support the arts, and create art in such a nurturing environment.”

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