Despite weeks of controversy surrounding increased vendor fees and restrictions and a second move in as many years, the Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival seems to have come off with few hard feelings.
In the weeks before the festival, news surrounding the event focused on who would not attend. The German Friendship Club, La Asociacion Hispanoamericana, the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Sweet Adelines and the League of Democratic Women all opted out this year, citing higher participation costs and increased restrictions.
Phyllis Moccio, the president of the Italian-American Club of the CSRA, admitted that the flat festival fee was higher, but said the extras that came with that fee made it more than economically viable for her group to participate.
"We looked at our budget from last year, and then we had to pay for the space and then extra for the tents and the tables and the chairs," she said. "It actually turned out to be about the same amount of money, and this year they set it all up for us, which was really nice."
Johnny Stephenson, a photographer from Eastpoint, Ga., is participating in his fourth Arts in the Heart festival. Because he set up prints of his landscape photography in the festival's fine crafts section, he said, this year's participation is actually costing him less.
"Last year, I think I paid $90," he said. "This year it's only $50. Of course, over in the fine arts section I believe they are paying $150, so there you go."
Brenda Durant, the executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, the festival's parent organization, said the festival's new direction, which included incorporating the Augusta Common and uniform tents and signs, has surprised even her.
"It's funny, because I always pictured the Common with the fine arts and crafts on it," she said, looking out over the multinational food tents that instead are using the space. "But having the Global Village here has worked better than I thought."
Charles and Natalie Collier, who had gone to previous Arts in the Heart festivals but were enjoying their first as a couple, agreed that the Common is a welcome inclusion.
"This is what this was built for," Mrs. Collier said. "It's so we could have a real place to do something like this."
Still, the couple saw room for improvement. They felt the parking situation was problematic and that the restrooms, concentrated in one corner of the festival site, were distant.
"Definitely closer bathrooms," said Mrs. Collier, placing her hand gently across her swollen stomach. "As a pregnant woman, I can tell you, they need closer bathrooms."
Ms. Durant said the festival has always been a work in progress, and sheexpects the discovery of a few wrinkles that might need ironing out before next year's festival.
"There is always change," she said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Arts in the Heart of Augusta
WHERE: Augusta Common, between Eighth and Ninth streets
WHEN: Gates are open from noon to 5 p.m. today
COST: $5 at the gate; children younger than 10 are admitted free
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or email@example.com.