Storm before the calm

June 13, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Frenzy: For organizers of the Columbia Arts Festival, the event itself will be peaceful compared to the days leading up to it. There isn't much time left.

With only two days until the kickoff for the Columbia Festival of the Arts, things are buzzing, and organizers are trying to anticipate last-minute problems.

"It's not glamorous at all this week," Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director, said yesterday. "We are really working to make sure that as much as possible is done down to the absolute detail."

When dealing with a rapidly growing regional festival, the details abound.Since it began a dozen years ago, the festival has grown to become a statewide draw, attracting big-name artists and thousands of visitors. The Festival of the Arts begins Thursday with free musical performances at 6 p.m. at Long Reach, Hickory Ridge and Dorsey's Search village centers, followed by a Gala Cabaret at Savage Mill at 7:30 p.m.

With success comes work, and for the festival that has meant volunteers to coordinate, logistics to calculate and exhibits to construct. Staff and volunteers have been working for months to organize dozens of exhibits and performances that will be held at almost 20 locations.

At festival offices in the Columbia Association building yesterday, volunteers rushed about, lugging boxes and answering phones.

Knowles, who spent much of the day visiting sites, had one word for the atmosphere.

"Panic, panic, panic," she said, laughing. "This is the time when you hope you don't get an ulcer. But everything has been going really well, and I have a wonderful staff."

Ticket sales have been brisk, with officials reporting $127,000 in sales as of yesterday - a 55 percent increase from last year's total of $82,000. Organizers are expecting more than 30,000 people to attend. Some events, such as the Emmylou Harris concert and the opening night of a performance by the Next Ice Age, an ice dancing troupe, are sold out.

"We expect some things, like the Marcel Marceau performance, to be sold out by the weekend," said Lee Hanna, box office manager for the festival. "We believe that we could do double the ticket sales this year."

In an office, yellow Post-it notes dominated a board, matching names of volunteers - sometimes several times - and their duties. Lorna Chestnutt, volunteer coordinator for the festival, said volunteers were excited about the 10-day event and eager to put all of the planning into motion. "Ninety percent of our volunteers have done it before," Chestnutt said. "We have about 150 to 200 volunteers right now, and people really seem to enjoy it."

And more are needed.Organizers said they are seeking volunteers to do everything from helping to park cars to assisting some of the artists scheduled to perform.

"We are stuffing goodie bags for some of the performers," Chestnutt said. "There is a lot of work to be done."

Judy Combs lives in Columbia and has been a volunteer for the festival since she retired from teaching in 1991. Combs, who has some acting experience, has been answering phones in the office this year and will be working as an usher and doing office work.

"I think this festival is very exciting for Columbia," she said. "There is such an excitement in seeing the whole thing come together."

Volunteer Jack Sloan will help supervise activities at the lakefront such as the "Art on the Lake" exhibit. Sloan said he believes the festival has blossomed over the years.

"The quality of performers has improved," he said. "The festival itself is finding its identity, and the volunteers who come out every year are so dedicated."

"One who understands what Columbia festival organizers have been facing is Gary Kachadourian, visual coordinator for Artscape, Baltimore's summer arts festival that is scheduled to begin in about six weeks.

Two days before the festival, you are beyond worrying about what could go wrong, and you are into dealing with what has gone wrong," he said. "You walk around tied to your cell phone and your pager pretty much just hoping that everything goes well."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.