Pop Rocks: Keep that Arts in the Heart vibe going year-round

People wander through the fine arts booths during the 2016 Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival. Now in its 37th year, the three-day event draws more than 80,000 attendees. Badges will go on sale in early August. FILE/STAFF

I was recently asked, to my great pleasure and surprise, if I might appear on former Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver’s popular morning radio show There It Is. There was no agenda, nothing to promote and no pressing issues to discuss. It was, instead, a free-wheeling conversation about Augusta music, culture and my own history in the community.

 

One of the interesting things that came up stemmed from what Copenhaver has made a regular inquiry to his guests: What would you do as mayor?

I will admit I had pondered this a little before taking the radio hot seat. Still, as I gave my answer on air, it occurred to me that this was an idea that might have legs that, while it has been attempted in a variety of forms, might be something that’s time had come. Here’s my thought.

My favorite times in Augusta are those moments when the city comes together. I’m not talking about a large crowd but a specific crowd, with people from all walks of life. The best example of this, probably, is the Arts In the Heart of Augusta festival. Over the course of three days each September, this event becomes Augusta’s hub, a place where people meet, greet and interact with members of the community they might not otherwise ever come in contact with. It’s inspiring to see and, also, kind of depressing.

Why is that only once a year?

I understand, of course, the months of work, the complicated infrastructure and the planning involved make turning Arts In the Heart into anything more than an annual event difficult, if not impossible. It may, in fact, be part of what makes it so special and attractive. That said, I do believe some of those things that make the annual event so popular might be replicated, simplified and presented on a more regular basis. And that’s what I told Deke I would do as mayor.

My idea is this: a monthly “festival” – presented by the city and free to the public, showcasing local music. To make this attractive to the broadest audience, this music would be carefully curated to appeal to a variety of tastes – rock bands followed by gospel choirs followed by country crooners, for instance. The event could be augmented with a few food trucks. Nothing too complicated.

Upon reflection, I think it might work better as a quarterly happening. Arts In the Heart is popular, in part, because people miss it when it is not around. The same must certainly be said for this event.

Some might argue that this event – or something similar already exists in First Friday. This would be different. There’s a certain informality to First Friday, a sense that it is less an event than a recognition of Augusta’s cultural community at a predetermined time. It is an event that, in recent years, has not proved completely successful at drawing a diverse demographic – something I think is essential. And while certainly a downtown event, First Friday’s boundaries are loose – beginning somewhere near Seventh Street and ending on 10th or 11th or 12th – depending on events and interest.

What I envision is something far more contained – the Augusta Common seems a natural spot but others are possible. People need to understand exactly where and when people will gather.

And what about a name? What best represents the spirit of this idea? My initial thought was, given the eclectic nature of the music acts, Mixtape – but that might be too esoteric, particularly to younger audiences. So I’m casting my vote with the name Deke hastily scrawled on a yellow Post-It note in the studio. Inspired by the Austin City Limits idea that became a big brand in Austin, he suggested Garden City Unlimited. I like it and you know why?

Because Limits are for other cities.

A LOOK AHEAD

37th Annual Arts in the Heart of Augusta Festival: 5-9 p.m. Sept. 15, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 16, noon-7 p.m. Sept. 17, 836 Reynolds St.; fine arts and crafts market, global village with international cuisine, five stages with live entertainment, more; advance badges on sale in early August; artsintheheartofaugusta.com

 

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