The 2020 Sugar Creek Arts Festival requires no sunscreen, fan or sunglasses.
However, it does require a computer, tablet or smartphone. That’s because the festival is going virtual, coming up on Saturday, July 11. Doug Johnson is the director of Bloomington's the McLean County Arts Center, the organization that mounts the festival each summer in Uptown Normal.
“Obviously, we couldn’t do anything out of doors. You can’t invite 20,000 people to come out in the heat wearing masks."
“And frankly, for artists who do the festival circuit, everything has been cancelled. So, there was no way to even invite the artist,” Johnson said. “And our effort with this is really to support the artists and give them an avenue where they can communicate with the public and hopefully get some sales and provide some support for them during this very strange time.”
The Virtual 2020 Sugar Creek Arts Festival involves many of the usual festival aspects–minus the corndogs and lemon shakeups. There will be live music performances streaming from local favorites like Stone and Snow, Edward David Anderson, and Marcos Mendez. And 50 artists will be virtually on-hand to show their work and give viewers a glimpse into their studios and their artistic process.
The shift to online has created some technical challenges for the organizers, Johnson admitted.
“For every artist that participates, we’re creating a virtual booth for them. It’s webpage-specific for their work. There’ll be examples of their works, descriptions, an artist statement, links to their website or their Etsy page.”
“For a goodly number of them, we’ll have virtual studio tours and introductions to their work. So, there’s a whole lot of artists around the Midwest right now who are figuring out how to do video on their iPhone,” he added with a laugh. “They’re sending that to me and I’m editing it and bringing that together into something that really shows off their terrific work.”
Typically, 130 artists show at the Sugar Creek Arts Festival. Johnson said getting that number down to 50 for the virtual festival was achieved, in part, by the artists themselves.
“Ultimately, a lot of the artists have had to self-select out,” Johnson revealed. “We had 50 artists who were eager to participate, so we invited them to come on board.”
“There’s only so much we can handle with trying to create a whole web presence for artists. So, 50 seemed like a solid number for us and them. There’s a lot of people who have done the festival circuit for years, and the internet is a lovely idea, but it’s not something they’ve necessarily engaged in.”
“We’re pushing the comfort zone for some of them. But I think it will be something that rewards them and will invite the community to get to know these artists a lot better.”
One bump in the virtual road concerns the fact that the Sugar Creek Arts Festival typically helps raise money for the McLean County Arts Center. Expectations this year have to be different, said Johnson.
“Every cultural institution has taken a tremendous hit during this odd time," he said. "Our programming at this time isn’t necessarily a fundraiser, it’s a 'friendraiser.' We’re building community, and community development is central to our mission as a non-profit cultural institution. Our avenue for that has always been the arts.”
“Is there an economic downturn that we’re facing? Of course. But our goal is to help sustain these artists and remind the community of the value of the arts for both the creatives and ourselves. The arts are one of the ways that we define ourselves, rightly so.”
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