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HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
The History of the Commonwheel Artists Co-op’s Art Festivals
by Julia L. Wright, August 2020
I was one of the artists exhibiting at the first Commonwheel Labor Day Art Festival in 1975. It looked very different from what this art festival has evolved into over the past 45 years. Although the one thing that has always stayed the same is that we strictly juried in quality artists who created their beautiful art and were in attendance during the festival. During the years, we have had to remove vendors that slipped past the jury and were not in compliance, a difficult, but necessary task that sometimes had to be done by me with the support of members of the committee.
In January of 1976, I moved here and immediately joined the Commonwheel Artist Co-op that was housed in a small building on Manitou Avenue. I became a member of the group that planned and oversaw the logistics for these three festivals. By the end of that first year, I found myself pretty much the leader of this side of the Commonwheel.
A couple years later we ended hosting the Memorial Day Art Festival, partially due to weather challenges that usually occurred during those days. Then a few years later we engaged in a long and heart-felt discussions about which art festival should we focus all our attention upon to make it the best it could possibly be and not dilute our efforts with trying to do two. A major talking point was that Manitou Springs didn’t really need another burst of advertising in the middle of summer, as tourists easily found the town as a beautiful place to visit and there were galleries that they could find great art. Plus the fact that the 4th of July moved around and wasn’t on any constant weekend also played into that decision. So the Labor Day Art Festival became the focal point of our efforts to create a very high quality art festival that included local music and art-related activities for children.
For all of these art festivals, the primary goal has always been to bring high quality handmade art and crafts to be for sale by the artist who created it. A secondary goal was to be able to allow art patrons to engage with artists to help them understand the process artists use to bring their varied creative visions into physical forms that will speak to another person who sees it. Thus leading to that person being inspired to purchase and take it with them to wear or use for years in the future or share as a gift for another person.
For all of the following years I have been involved, mostly as lead coordinator, with a few short “sabbaticals” from the that position, but have always shown my art during at this festival.
In 2013, the flooding of Manitou Springs happened barely a month before Labor Day Weekend. Some of the flood waters roared over the west end of Memorial Park leaving behind a smelly, muddy mess in its wake. (And I do hope to have my newest book chronically the fires of 2012 and the flooding in 2013 published by this Labor Day Weekend.)
This flooding meant the Commonwheel had to make a huge decision regarding whether to cancel or find a new location to move the art festival to that year. We chose not to cancel it, but to find a place and way to move it. Most of the members were focused upon clearing out the muddy flooded basement of the Commonwheel Artists Gallery. So with the help of a few Co-op and many community members who joined in to help me figure out the best location and all the other logistics involved in that challenging to Fields Park. So for two years while the City was working on the flood mitigation efforts to protect the community, the festival was held in this alternate location out of the flood plain. Although Fields Park wasn’t the best location for this type of festival, everyone in Commonwheel agreed it was better there than risking the safety of artists, performers, volunteers or visiting art patrons or canceling the festival.
This art festival has always been filled with carefully juried ART, local entertainers on the stage and included fun activities for children. For 45 years, art patrons have been able to engage in conversations with artists whose work most intrigued them to learn more about what inspired their creative endeavors.
So as this year as COVID-19 progressed to become a bigger and bigger threat to the health of all communities, we once again had to make a very challenging and difficult decision about the art festival. The jury had been held as normal with the thought in mind that we might not be able to safely host an art festival in the park.
In July, after many long discussions we could not determine a way to create a live festival that would be safe for our artists, volunteers and art patrons. At this time we were very aware that no live entertainment or food or children’s activities would be allowed.
So once again, we were faced with the two options; to either cancel the festival or move it to a totally unique venue in cyberspace. So with lots of input from committee members and with the help of a few tech savvy members we embarked upon a journey to create the Virtual Artists Festival that will happen from September 5 to the 13th.
This has been quite the learning experience for all of the festival committee members, including myself, and the artists who have bravely chosen to join us in this unique adventure into the virtual world of promoting art. And yes, I will be one of them again this year. There will be links to show more of what artists create that will go live on September 5th. Each day there will be a scavenger hunt for art to enter contests to win some fun prizes. (We are still looking for some local businesses to sponsor prizes to be given away during the art scavenger hunt style contests that will take place during all 9 days of the Virtual Artists Festival in September.)
Artists are being asked to create videos of their art processes or live experiences during those 9 days where people can visit them in their studios. A huge leap of faith for those that are not comfortable in the world of computers.
The festival’s FaceBook page is sharing videos of the artwork that artists will have available during the Virtual Artists Festival. We would love to hear your stories about your favorite artists and times you spent at past festivals there.
Commonwheel Artists Festival Committee has high hopes that art patrons who have supported this festival for many years in the past will join us and support the artists they have loved in the past or discover some new ones whose art they just must have!