Pop Rocks: Success of Arts in the Heart must be carefully watched

We live in a culture of quantified success. We look at bottom lines and grand totals, at hard numbers and finite data sets. We believe that bigger always means better and that more is the measure that separates good from bad.

 

I’m not sure I always agree.

While there is certainly a degree of worth to be found in quantity, it is really rather worthless without some degree of quality. I bring this up because the Augusta community was greeted this weekend by an Arts In the Heart of Augusta festival that has, and continues to, enjoy a period of real growth and expansion.

What began as a few folding tables and ad hoc stages in a parking lot now is a professional and polished production that extends over four city blocks, down various side streets and completely takes over the Augusta Common. And while it may be argued that evolution happened over a period of

35 years, the truth is, it wasn’t all that long ago that the annual event was capable of being housed beneath the trees in a couple acres around the levee and Riverwalk.

This year, in terms of participation, patrons and scope and scape, was a landmark year for Arts In the Heart. It has become an event that is difficult to take in, a glorious gathering of creative and culinary treats.

While final numbers had not been tallied prior to my deadline, it seems likely that attendance records for all three days will be broken.

My question, however, is this – how long until growth outstrips those intangibles that have made Arts In the Heart such a success.

Right now, in the afterglow of such a successful event, it is difficult to believe that the winning record the festival has enjoyed over the past several years could change. But part of what makes Arts In the Heart so interesting and engaging is that, despite the increasing number of artists, ethnic groups and performers, it has managed to maintain a certain degree of intimacy and accessibility. How many years can this event grow and how much real estate can it gobble up before it loses the best-block-party-ever vibe that has come to define it.

Look, I am all for growth. What I’m not a fan of is sprawl. That has not happened yet with Arts In the Heart, but once seemed an impossibility is starting to feel like an inevitability.

I’m not even saying limit the growth of the festival. I am merely suggesting that with each booth, block and banner added, planning needs to be handled more carefully and with consideration to invested and involved.

Parking is a problem. Will it get worse?

Downtown has developed into a vibrant residential as well as business district. How has and will that community be affected by this event?

There comes a point in any successful event’s existence where growth becomes easy – like a snowball rolling down a mountain.

But you have to be wary. After all, how do you stop that snowball? We certainly don’t want Arts In the Heart taking out any alpine villages.

 

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