By Jennifer Sadler and Patricia Prater

This weekend, June 3, 4 & 5, more than 350,000 visitors are expected to converge in downtown’s Discovery District to celebrate the golden anniversary of the Columbus Arts Festival presented by Time Warner Cable. Since its humble beginnings in the early 1960s, the Festival has evolved into one of the largest and most prestigious visual arts festivals in the country. Columbus residents claim the Festival as a favorite early summer tradition and the kick-off to the outdoor festival season.

Art, music and food, family, friends and community—these elements are what make up the Columbus Arts Festival. And though the Festival has changed over the years, it still remains a cultural event that brings arts enthusiasts in the Columbus community together.

The Festival will transform the Discovery District into a fun and festive atmosphere keeping the anniversary festivities going full tilt all weekend with booths set up displaying high-quality art and craft created by juried artists from across the nation and abroad, as well as a showcase of Emerging Artists from the central Ohio area.

Columbus is a city with a great passion for music and supports a long history of world-class talent. The Festival is proud to present some of the best of the local vibrant and diverse music scene. Rock, jazz, country and funk—music lovers will find it all with a great line-up of nearly 20 acts featured throughout the weekend on the stage. Check out the daily schedule of performers and listen to samples of music by the featured performers.

Back this year are activities and events that are always big hits with the Festival crowds like the family-friendly Hands On Art Activities area where aspiring young artists can try their hands at creating their own masterpieces, and the popular Children’s Gallery where kids can buy a piece of art from work donated by Festival artists for $5 or less. On the Ohio Magazine Word is Art stage, enjoy poetry performances, dance and presentations by local community arts groups as well as the 7th annual Columbus Arts Festival Poetry Slam, a fun and interactive performance by some of Columbus’ best slam poets where the audience members judge the competition. Visitors can also check out the Student Art Exhibition, featuring work by central Ohio students.

The Festival attracts some of the finest exhibiting artists from across the nation and abroad. But as the Festival marks this momentous occasion, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the vibrant and creative community of visual and performing artists who live and create their art in Columbus every day.

Special activities and new initiatives will offer a diverse, inclusive and creative experience for Festival-goers to enrich their experience and put a spotlight on the local creative community. The event this year incorporates more community partners including local artists, local restaurants and small businesses. Also new this year are fun and engaging activities for the artsy “big kids” who attend the Festival including an Art Carnival featuring creative games hosted by local independent arts groups.

Yesterday – A Brief History

Fifty years ago, the Columbus Arts Festival began as the “Downtown Festival of the Arts” and was originally held on the Ohio Statehouse lawn. In 1970, the newly formed Greater Columbus Arts Council took charge of running and producing the event. In 1984, under the leadership of then GCAC President, Ray Hanley, the Festival moved to the Downtown Riverfront, where it was located until 2008.

Vonnie Sanford, the first official Columbus Arts Festival director (from 1974-1979) has fond memories of the early days. Her favorite time during the festival was at night.

“I remember coming out of the Neil House [an historic hotel at Broad and High that was demolished in 1981] the evening the Symphony was going to play on the lawn, and it was dusk and all the artists still stayed open and they lit candles in their booths and I thought, ‘oh my God, this is beautiful!’” Sanford said.

When construction began along the riverfront to create the Scioto Mile park and to rehab the Town Street Bridge, the Festival chose the Discovery District as its temporary home because of the fantastic space available, along with the potential for partnerships in the area. The businesses and organizations in the Discovery District—from Columbus State Community College to CCAD to the Columbus Museum of Art to Motorists Insurance—welcomed the Columbus Arts Festival with open arms.

Today – New Initiatives Focus on Local Scene

Emerging Artists Program

In addition to the visual artist application which is open to national and international exhibitors, the Columbus Arts Festival now offers a separate application to local artists who are new to exhibiting at arts festivals through the Festival’s new Emerging Artists program. The Emerging Artist program is designed specifically fto help promote artists who have extremely limited or no experience exhibiting and selling their artwork at top national arts festivals. Artists who apply in this category must be residents of Franklin or surrounding counties in Ohio which include Union, Delaware, Licking, Fairfield, Pickaway, Fayette and Madison.

There were 33 applications to this program and 10 local artists were selected by the Festival jurors. In addition to a lower booth fee these artists will also receive assistance from Festival staff and are paired with a seasoned mentor artist during the show.

Columbus photographer Vince Nobel says that the program has been a wonderful asset in preparing him for his first festival.

“I’ve gained tremendous insights into the working of art fairs through [GCAC’s] seminars and boot camps,” says Nobel. “I now have the basic knowledge of set-up, daily operations, product pricing, taking payments, even dealing with inclement weather. I’m now confident that I’ll have a successful experience at the Columbus Arts Festival.”

Click here to see the full list of Emerging Artists.

Savor the Arts with Dine Originals

The culinary arts will make a splash this year with Savor the Arts with Dine Originals, featuring some of Columbus finest eating establishments from fairly new restaurants such as Barrio that will be selling South American and Spanish inspired street food at the Festival to Rigsby’s, an integral part of the Columbus community since 1986 and will be serving a delicious lobster and corn chowder with chive oil.

Dine Originals Columbus is a community of independently owned and operated restaurants in central Ohio. The Mission of Dine Originals Columbus is to celebrate, support, and promote locally owned and operated independent restaurants by providing unique dining experiences for its patrons and collaborative services and benefits for it members. They are excited to be teaming up with the Columbus Arts Festival to promote local Columbus restaurants.

The Savor the Arts tent will feature delectable menus developed by participating local restaurants that will redefine “something for every taste” including: Barcelona, Barrio, Black Creek Bistro, Deepwood, Due Amici, The Elevator, G. Michaels, Katalina's Corner Cafe, Mozarts, The Refectory, Rigsby's, Skillet, Tasi's and The Top.

The Festival would also like to thank Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace for creating the "24 Carrot Vegan Golden Hot Dog" in honor of the 50th anniversary.  The veggie dog is topped with a spicy pineapple and carrot slaw, drizzled with vegan cream cheese, top with fried carrots and garnished with fresh chives.  It's absolutely delicious and is available at the restaurant at 248 S. 4th Street, at the south end of downtown.

Connect a Million Minds Day with Time Warner Cable

Another new program includes Connect a Million Minds Day on Saturday, June 4, which will explore creativity and imagination through the lens of science. Activities will showcase different aspects of art and science with the help of local arts organizations and artists who are committed to helping Festival patrons explore the science behind art and the art behind science. A wide range of art forms will be incorporated—visual arts, dance, music, theatre, history and more.

Examples of the featured activities include the Amazing Science Emporium of WCBE’s Dan Mushalko—an interactive demonstration of sound waves and how people use technology to communicate over long distances and discover how radio works; and The Science of Movement, a presentation BalletMet and The Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center’s Performing Arts Medicine Team’s presentation of The Science of Movement.

Other activities that will be happening are: Art Challenge Scavenger Hunt, CATCO and Phoenix Theatre adventure, and COSI's interactive play with balloons.

Time Warner Cable's Connect a Million Minds program is a five-year, $100 million cash and in-kind philanthropic initiative to address America’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), which puts children at risk of not competing successfully in a global economy. 

Click here to see a full list of the Connect a Million Minds activities happening this Saturday. 

All Hands On Art and Art Carnival – Creative Activities Just for “Big Kids”

The Columbus Arts Festival will introduce this year All Hands On Art, an area just for adults that will be open from noon - 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 3 and 4 and noon - 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 5. Columbus’ independent artist groups such as Etsy Team Columbus, ARTillery and Wonderland have created an Art Carnival with games and creative activities to add some artsy fun to the Festival experience—and all proceeds will benefit the participating groups.

Adam Brouillette, executive director of Wonderland, says the Art Carnival “is an example of 10 very solid independent artists groups showcasing what they do and introducing themselves to the Greater Columbus arts community. This publicity will help these organizations grow locally.”

“These groups are responding by reciprocating,” says Brouillette. “As for the Art Carnival, I’d like to see the idea grow and to work with GCAC and the Festival as one big team.”

While adults have fun playing creative Art Carnival games, they can also stop by the area’s Signature Bar offering the 50th Festival Signature Belvedere vodka drink, Liquid Art.  The Bar will be open from 6-10 p.m. only.  Also in the All Hands On area will be the Expose Yourself! tent, where visitors can watch arts demonstrations by local and exhibiting artists to get a glimpse into how they create their work.

Other great new additions to enhance your Festival experience: the year the Festival will introduce the new Mobile App that will allow visitors to locate artists, food vendors and menus, watch the latest weather report and much more. The app will also be used throughout 2011 for the Festival’s move to the Riverfront, keeping patrons up to date with the new layout, time frame and special events. Also making its debut this year is the VIP Lounge. VIP passes will be made available to VIP ticket purchases, sponsors and special guests to come and relax in comfortable atmosphere at the event. A copy of the Commemorative print by local artist Amy Neiwirth, a Festival t-shirt, comfortable seating, free water and snacks, personal shopping assistance and cozy furniture courtesy of GRID Furnishings and other VIP amenities will be available. VIP packages are on sale now and during the Festival. Click here for more information and details for purchasing tickets.

Be sure to join the Festival on Facebook and Twitter and keep up to speed regarding news and contests going on before and during the Festival weekend. Messages will go out on the hour through Twitter all weekend, June 3, 4 &5, to keep Festival-goers posted about all of the special events going in conjunction with our BIG 50th annual celebration. Take part in the @tweetandgoseek scavenger hunt before and during the event. Local artist and originator of the idea, Matthew Richard Barnes (aka misterbarnes) has created tiny original collages containing prizes and will tweet out clues to followers as to where they are hidden around town and on the Festival site. Click here for more information on how to join in the fun and follow the scavenger hunt on Twitter.

Looking Forward to the Next 50!

The Columbus Arts Festival, with its hub of creativity that enlivens the downtown area with art on the streets as well as the surrounding venues provides an opportunity for the community to gain an appreciation for the vibrant and creative culture that exists here in Columbus.

"Next year the Columbus Arts Festival will return to its longtime home on the Riverfront and new Scioto Mile," said Milt Baughman, President of GCAC. "Thanks to Festival sponsor Time Warner Cable free Wi-Fi will be available all along the river downtown which is a tremendous benefit to our artists, and the new bridges and pedestrian features along the Mile will be a wonderful addition to the Festival experience. The Columbus Arts Festival has had a terrific four years in the Discovery District and we're grateful to our Discovery District partners for welcoming us into their neighborhood."

The Festival would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of our many passionate volunteers and the planning by the coordinating committee—please be sure to thank them when you see them on site for helping to keep this even a wonderful Columbus tradition!  Click here to find out how to sign up to volunteer and be a part of the exciting move back to the Riverfront!

Come to the Festival this weekend to celebrate 50 years of the arts and community and join us as we look forward to the next 50 years!

Admission to the Columbus Arts Festival is free. The Festival receives no public money and is dependent on earned revenues and the generosity of the Columbus corporate community to host this event. The 2011 Columbus Arts Festival is presented by Time Warner Cable. Additional sponsors to date are American Electric Power, State Auto, Belvedere Vodka, Bella Giardino Landscaping, Catering by Scott, Coca-Cola, Dine Originals, Fahlgren, Glazer’s, GRID Furnishings, Heineken, Live! Technologies, Orange Barrel, Oscar Mayer, Sherwin Williams, Target, The Westin and ZonePerfect Nutrition Bars. Media sponsors include Alive, Ohio Magazine, WBNS 10TV, WOSU, CD101@102.5FM, WCBE 90.5FM, WMNI/Classic Hits 103.9 FM.

Visit to see the full list of participating artists and schedules of activities and performances happening all weekend long.

Image:  Shot taken at the 1974 Columbus Arts Festival.

Image:  The Wizard of Oz, courtesy of CAPA.

Upper Arlington Music in the Parks
Presented by Upper Arlington Cultural Arts Division
June 2, 2011 — August 4, 2011

Family Fun Day: Butterfly Festival
Presented by Franklin Park Conservatory
June 4, 2011

The World In Our Hands
Presented by Magpie Consort/First Congregational Church
June 4, 2011

Columbus Landmarks Foundation's City Hop Party
Presented by Columbus Landmarks Foundation
June 11, 2011

4th Annual Bexley House & Garden Tour
Presented by Bexley Women's Club
June 11 & 12, 2011

Walking Tour of Downtown Columbus
Presented by Capital City Tours
June 11, 2011 — August 20, 2011

DAC Sundays at Scioto summer concert series
Presented by Dublin Arts Council
June 12, 2011 — July 31, 2011

The Wizard of Oz
Presented by CAPA Summer Movie Series
June 17-June 19