Waupaca Arts on the Square

by Jean Detjen

The Waupaca Community Arts Board (WCAB) will be hosting its 9th Annual Waupaca Arts on the Square (AOTS) in Downtown Waupaca Thursday, August 13 through Saturday, August 15. This dynamic celebration of the arts features live music, interactive arts workshops, fine art, dance, and a community art project.

CW_childmandala“The Waupaca community has a long history of volunteers coming together to promote the arts and arts appreciation,” says Bryan Smith, Mayor of the City of Waupaca. “From a few dedicated people working to provide artistic exposure to the community, our arts community has grown to include a very sizable artist community and many different arts organizations and arts related businesses of all kinds.”

WCAB founder Marci Reynolds, who is a musician in the local favorite band Baba Ghanooj, agrees. “The intentional creation of creative events began in Waupaca about 20 years ago, with a core group of like-minded people coming together and sharing their vision for our small rural town. This group had so much fun brainstorming and creating events that they started to feel guilty that the general public could not participate. This caused the core group to expand and try to be more accessible to the public.  With many agendas that included no holds barred creativity, unlimited fun, the peace movement, and the idea that if we have to live in a small town it had better be interesting, the group pursued public non-profit status and endeavored to engage with the entire community. The richness of life is based upon really valuing every member of our community, and understanding that we are all part of what makes up our local society.”

Reynolds notes that as a musician, she knows the special feeling of being able to express yourself musically. “Part of the mission of the WCAB is to create situations where anyone can experience, on many levels, the satisfaction and thrill of creativity.”  

“The AOTS festival started out as a way to celebrate all aspects of creativity of our community,” adds Bev Crane, chair of the Art Jury Committee. “We started out with the goal of trying to get 30 to 40 high quality artists who would, over the years, form the foundation of the festival. The plan was that this foundation would then be embellished by musical acts, theatrical acts, dance and more. A major push was to include ways in which community members could come to the festival and not only enjoy what they saw and heard, but become involved in various ways, through the creative process.”

This year, in addition to 40 artists, and 3 entertainment stages, there are 9 interactive arts workshops including children’s art workshops led by artists, a poetry workshop, music workshop, dance, community art projects and more. There is also a poetry stage, with poets of various ages, including New York Subway poet Lynn Gentry, and the Dead Poets Society from the local high school.

Festivities kick-off in a community known for its dynamic and thriving artistic community on Thursday, August 13 with events sponsored by Waupaca’s retailers group, Waupaca King and In Between. These events start with a chalking competition entitled Adopt a Square in which local retailers adopt a city square sidewalk square for youth to share their chalk art renditions that can earn them prizes in design competition.

Local retailers will have spent the entire previous week chalking outside of their own establishments, in the traditional competitive chalking which will also be judged by WCAB members. Capping off this evening, the Waupaca Middle School band will perform on the square at 5 pm, with chalking awards being announced at 5:30.

“The retail association has also been more involved every year, with this year’s plans being to extend the festival another whole day with various youth and music and chalk events,” says Anita Olson, a local retailer who heads up the group Waupaca King and In Between that is advocating for new ways to boost the creative economy.

Friday evening in Downtown Waupaca, the Family Friendly street dance will feature National recording artists Davina and the Vagabonds from 7 – 10:30pm playing Americana, jazz and blues. Fire Spinner Broegy Pease and friends will entertain at the band’s break. Food, beer and beverages are available all evening.

Events continue Saturday, from 10 – 4 pm with 40 fine artists filling the Downtown Waupaca square. The artists will provide their juried exhibits, competing for cash awards. Their art will be available for sale to the public.

Three stages of live entertainment include Tom Pease, bluegrass band Ukelyptus, original music from Boston’s Hillary Reynolds, alternative band Kyle Megna and the Monsoons, and local rock favorites Ho Malone.

Annual image contest winner Leah Griffith Boyce sets the tone for Arts on the Square 2015 with her whimsical rendition of this fantastic community celebration of the arts!

Annual image contest winner Leah Griffith Boyce sets the tone for Arts on the Square 2015 with her whimsical rendition of this fantastic community celebration of the arts!

The Union Street stage will feature a participatory song circle workshop with the talented Chris Kokesh, Flamenco guitar and dance with John Laedtke and Pamela Luedtke, and several jazz acts including Wisconsin Public Radio’s Chris Kuborn and his Steel Drums, the Ian Duerr Jazz trio form New York, and the John Harmon Trio form Lawrence University. This tent will also feature periodic dance by the Shuvani Tribal belly dancers.

The Bandstand stage will feature Arizona’s Anasazi flute player Vibhas Kendzia, Classical violins and strings form the Aber Suzuki Studio, the Kari Esbensen String Quartet, and the One for the Road Barbershoppers.

The newly added Poetry Stage gives voice to original poets reading their work throughout the day. Poets include local favorites Patricia Reckrey and Jane Peterson, as well as National poet Lynn Gentry who will also write spontaneous street poetry throughout the day. The Waupaca High School Dead Poets Society who will host a Poetry Slam. Part of this stage will be a community workshop dedicated to learning about and writing Haiku, with the creation of a community Haiku display that will be installed outside at Office Outfitters.

Street performers will add to the eclectic wide variety of entertainment at 2014 Arts on the Square. New to 2015 will be a Pleine Aire group, which is a group of professional artists dedicated to painting from life and to using field studies as the inspiration for studio works. The group will be rotating around the festival grounds, painting what inspires them throughout the day.

There will also be a live football exhibit with local adult soccer teams competing.

Since a large part of Arts on the Square is to emphasize not only appreciation, but also participation in the arts, there will again be a wide variety of interactive arts opportunities and workshops, including a large community art project called Circle of Community in which everyone can participate in creating a piece of art that will be put together the day of the festival.

Also offered are 3 children’s art workshops, a quilting workshop, a henna workshop, and more. The workshops are designed for all ages and led by artists enhance the belief that every person is creative. All workshops are free, and are ongoing throughout the entire day on Saturday.

As always, a variety of culinary delights will be available with beverages and beer on the grounds all day Saturday. There will also be an expanded farmer’s market on site.

All performances and workshops at Arts on the Square are free. Arts on the Square is funded by ThedaCare, Community First Credit Union; the City of Waupaca, many generous local donors and community members.

It’s a big undertaking but Waupaca arts supporters are tenacious in their efforts. “Many people get involved out of sheer enthusiasm for a particular idea or concept,” says Reynolds, who chairs the Festival Planning Committee. “These ideas are manifested during many a brainstorming session at official WCAB meetings, between friends, or at local establishments such as Weasel’s restaurant. Every year the ideas get more intricate and elaborate, with the belief that anything is possible in a small rural town.”

The group’s commitment to the cause is in the details of how all the pieces came together. “A key feature this year that is an example of a leap of faith is the fact that the national touring band Davina and the Vagabonds will be the featured act for the Friday Night Street Dance,” Reynolds said. “This professional act, with accomplished musicianship and an engaging show, played over 250 gigs per year here in the US and abroad. The planning committee was able to take the risk of booking this act due to their sincere faith that the community would somehow come through, which is exactly what happened with an anonymous philanthropist entering the arena to make up the difference. This is an example of how the Waupaca community is behind the vision for AOTS. Not only supporting in a monetary fashion, but by volunteering time and sweat equity to create this festival.”

The mayor of Waupaca, Brian Smith, and the city council are all in support of AOTS, with not only their financial support via a generous annual grant, but also by proclaiming August to be “Arts Appreciation Month” in Waupaca.

Arts on the Square has grown to be a landmark summer event in Waupaca, and Waupaca is becoming known in and beyond the Chain O’ Lakes for its robust arts scene. “With the power of relationship and creativity, we are able to continually grow in quality and innovativeness, and hope to someday expand this event to cover even more days filled with more local participation and fun for our entire community!” Reynolds said.  “Waupaca is where it’s at!”

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