The Westobou Festival opens Wednesday with a fine-tuned format organizers hope will attract a larger audience by concentrating fewer events in fewer days.
The five-day festival features 22 events representing visual art, music, film, dance and literature. A free exhibit of visual art at the Old Academy of Richmond County on Telfair Street runs the entire festival.
Westobou Festival programming chair Erin Jacobs said the new design alleviates the feeling that people were spread thinly over a huge array of events. A focus on quality over quantity should also be good for ticket sales.
“We’re finding our way. It’s taken a few years,” Jacobs said. “People were having a hard time doing everything they wanted to do.”
In 2008, the Westobou Festival debuted with nearly 200 performances over 10 days. Those were reduced to about 50 in 2011.
Still, Jacobs and other board members insist the shorter festival does not reflect weak attendance in past years.
“We have curated our events to a level where you can experience the festival from Wednesday to Sunday and, at the end, feel like you experienced a complete experience,” said Shell Berry, the chairwoman of the Westobou Festival Board of Directors.
The event times and places are closer together creating a better flowing festival, Berry said.
The festival was conceived in 2005 by the trustees of the Academy of Richmond County with funding from the Porter Fleming Foundation. Until this year, hundreds of thousands of dollars were awarded to local arts groups to plan events during the festival.
For the second year, the festival is headquartered at the Old Academy of Richmond County where the headlining musical act, three-time Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe, will play a large outdoor stage. Augusta State University, Imperial Theatre and several area churches also play host to events.
Since its inception, the festival was challenged to find a niche among more competitive arts events across the region, Berry said. This year, it’s more established, attracted more sponsorship money and used local connections to improve the repertoire.
Bigger name acts with a regional or national following are helping to build the festival’s reputation, Berry said. A board member who knew Monáe was able to secure the vocalist in the lineup, she said.