Arts fest promotes hands-on learning

Columbia: Visitor participation is emphasized in the town's two-week Festival of the Arts.

June 10, 2005|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

About 20 amateur artists smudged with black, blue and green pigment knelt, crouched and lay on the ground Wednesday to get close to their canvas: a section of sidewalk in front of Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi.

The group gathered for an introduction to street painting from artist Michael Kirby as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts, which continues today through June 19.

The street-painting workshop was the first of many opportunities at the festival for people to try their hands - and feet - at dancing, juggling, painting, learning about history and making musical sculptures out of junk.

In addition to bringing renowned artists to perform in Columbia, "it is also the festival's mission to create a learning environment in which children and adults can deepen their enjoyment of various art forms through direct engagement with the arts and artists," said Nichole Hickey, the festival director.

At his workshop, Kirby, of Baltimore, showed participants how to start sketching with white chalk, then add color and texture with pastels.

Soon the artists strayed from the suggested drawing - a shrimp and a lobster - and made flowers, fish, bubbles, bugs, mermaids and other designs.

"I like that it's not permanent," said Danya French, 16, of Ellicott City as she drew an ant and a ladybug on one side of the group project. "I also like that lots of people can see it."

But, Danya said, "It's not very portable."

Despite the aching knees and messy hands, many of the participants said they would return to the lakefront over the weekend for the open street-painting contest that will be part of the two-day LakeFest celebration.

Also at LakeFest on Saturday, those who attend will find a juggling school and a "Creole for Kidz" presentation.

That day, Alice Webb of Clarksville will lead a workshop in plein-air painting, which means capturing live scenes in the "open air."

One technique she will share is creating a value study in a sketchbook outlining the broad patterns and shapes to use as a road map for the painting.

"You can't do details," she said. "It is a different way of seeing."

The class will include critiques by Webb and lots of one-on-one advice. She said, "I look at this as something fun for people to do. I want them to have an appreciation of what plein-air painting is."

Aspiring dancers will have several opportunities to learn some moves over the next two weeks. A free concert at Centennial Park on Wednesday will start with an Irish step-dance lesson. On June 20, dancers with some experience can take a master class led by Tango Flemenco artistic director Antonio Najarro.

Young people, in particular, are encouraged to attend three workshops next week to learn the high-energy moves of the Nebellen Dance Company.

Co-founder Benjamin Perez Howe calls the Phoenix-based company's style "high art meets pop culture" as it combines classical, modern and hip-hop dance styles.

The workshops will include a lesson in hip-hop with moves called popping and locking, a day of jazz and gymnastic tumbling, and a session to learn some of the group's choreography.

Co-founder Ellen Rath said that in her experience, young dancers who take the workshops "always feel very good about themselves. It boosts their confidence level. ... It also opens their minds a little more."

Scrap Arts Music founder Gregory Kozak likes to talk about the artistic process behind his musical found-object sculptures when he leads workshops like the one scheduled for Thursday.

"I take people to where I began, where these things came from, what they used to be," he said.

Kozak, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, uses plumbing fixtures, playground equipment, appliances and pieces of wood, metal and plastic that he finds in scrap yards, construction sites and back yards.

His sculptures then become the musical instruments upon which a team of five performers play original songs along with choreography by Kozak.

He said he finds it rewarding to hear that people were inspired by his workshops: "I'm getting photos now. People are building instruments.

"The discovery and the fun of invention is unescapable," he said.

For more coverage of the festival, see the Sun's LIVE section online at www.baltimore sun.com. Festival information, including a full schedule of events: www.columbiafestival.com, or 410-715-3089.

Festival workshops

Here is a list of Columbia Festival of the Arts workshops. For information or to register for workshops with limited space, call 410-715-3089 or go to www.columbiafestival.com.

Plein-air painting with Alice Webb: Tomorrow during LakeFest, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Lake Kittamaqundi, Columbia Town Center; limited to 20 participants, $20.

Juggling school: Tomorrow during LakeFest, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.; Lake Kittamaqundi, Columbia Town Center; free and open to all.

Creole for Kidz (music, story and song): Tomorrow during LakeFest, 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Lake Kittamaqundi, Columbia Town Center; free, open to ages 5 and older.

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