Closing curtain on stellar event

Arts: Columbia's 12th arts festival, which brought international talents to the area and enjoyed greatly increased ticket sales, concluded yesterday.

June 26, 2000|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The jazz acts, artists, dancers, singers and performers roving around Columbia for the past 11 days have packed up and left town -- at least until next year.

This year's Columbia Festival of the Arts closed yesterday with two power-packed performances by mime Marcel Marceau, and an afternoon recital by pianist Michael Sheppard, a student at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

Organizers breathed a sigh of relief and accomplishment after the final performance.

Some organizers estimated that more than 30,000 people attended the indoor and outdoor festivities since the festival opened June 15. The event also featured performances by singer Andrea Marcovicci, Les Deux Mondes, ice-dance troupe The Next Ice Age, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the Eva Anderson Dancers, The Washington Ballet, violinist Mark O'Connor, fiddler Natalie MacMaster, and singer Emmylou Harris.

During a brief timeout before Marceau's afternoon performance, Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director, said this was the most successful of the dozen annual festivals. "I'm very critical of myself, so this is a rare thing for me to say, but I am very proud of this festival," Knowles said. "I think it turned out phenomenally."

Ticket sales supported her assertion: This year's sales, at $158,000, were just about double last year's. Knowles attributed the increase to the quality of the program and publicity for the festival. In her fourth year as festival director, Knowles said planning was key.

"This is the first year you see the fruits of planning ahead," she said. "Major artists usually have to be booked two years in advance, so acts like Marcel Marceau and Emmylou Harris have been scheduled for quite some time."

Lee Hanna, box office manager for the festival, estimated that at least 7,000 people attended the festival's indoor events, which were scattered at more than a dozen locations throughout Columbia.

Among the high points: On June 16, Beausoleil, a Cajun band, drew a huge crowd at the Lakefront Stage that wasn't intimidated by predictions of rain, Knowles said. The Marvelettes, Motown singers, had a similar draw at Lakefront the following evening.

Columbia residents are proud to have the festival here, Hanna said. More than half the festival's mail-order tickets came from residents of Columbia or Ellicott City, many of whom ordered tickets totaling $300 or more, she said. Of the 10 headline acts, eight sold out.

To retain the family atmosphere of the original festivals, Lakefest, which was held June 16-18, and various lakefront shows throughout the festival were free and open to the public.

The closing day of the festival featured a free jazz performance on Lake Kittamaqundi with the Eubie Blake Jazz Orchestra, the Military Jazz Band and the Howard Community College Faculty Jazz Ensemble. Organizers said the free events are important to the original intent of the festival, especially in light of the big-name acts that Columbia has attracted for the past few years.

Mary Ann Knab, marketing director for the festival, said the festival relies on a strong core staff and a load of eager volunteers. "I've been very impressed with the dedication of the volunteers," she said. "It would be impossible without them.

About 200 area residents volunteered for the festival. Their efforts were coordinated by a full-time staff of four and a few part-time employees.

Knowles and her handful of festival staff won't be basking in the glow of this season's success for long: Planning for next year begins at the end of the summer.

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