Originally created 09/26/03

Arts festival benefits from change



Last year, after the Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival, I wrote a column offering some unsolicited suggestions on improving the annual event. To my surprise, I found many of those suggestions in place this year. Now, I know that a previously planned change in location and the hiring of an outside adviser probably had more to do with the changes than the few phrases I hammered out 12 months ago.

Still, seeing those suggestions brought to life made me feel a little heady.

So I'm going to try it again. Here are this year's notes on the now vastly improved Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival.

DON'T FORGET THE ARTS: The Augusta Common makes a perfect, logical centerpiece for Arts in the Heart. It is important to remember that a large, open park like that exerts a mighty gravitational pull - in this case, away from the arts participants who had set up shop on the satellite streets of Eighth and Ninth. So strong was the pull that many patrons never made it away from the ethnic food, displays and performances centered at the Common, making Arts in the Heart only an ethnic festival. A stronger arts presence needs to be felt throughout the festival site. My suggestion is to move some of the children's activities that held a monopoly on Reynolds Street to one of the side streets, dedicating the thoroughfare to the visual and performing arts. I know the argument, that such an action might minimize families looking for child-friendly fun. Well, I'm here to tell you, children can smell finger paint and glitter glue from a mile away, and they'll find, and enjoy, the children's activities no matter where you put them.

BEAT THE HEAT: It always will be hot during Arts in the Heart of Augusta. We live in a semitropical climate and to expect cooler temperatures is foolhardy. Now, in the festival's former home under the trees that line the levee, the sun was less of an issue. But on the common, where the trees have a good 15 years of growth to go before they can offer any shade, it's a problem. My suggestion is misting tents, where people can get out of the sun and, more importantly, cool off. The temperatures were relatively temperate this year, but if we get a hot weekend, it could spell trouble.

BE AWARE OF COMMUNITY FEELINGS: The Greater Augusta Arts Council found itself embattled from time to time this year because of changes made to Arts in the Heart. In the end, many of these changes resulted in a more polished event. However, it is important to remember the reason Arts in the Heart remains a success: It is because of community support. Change is inevitable and absolutely required to keep an event fresh and interesting, but a balance must be struck. Remember, truth and perception often are two different things, and although changes were made with the interest of the event and the community in mind, that was not always the perception.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com