A festive' beginning

Fifth-grader Austin Lee will be among the national and local artists showcased at Columbia Arts Festival


In June, the Columbia Festival of the Arts will bring some big names in performing and visual arts to Howard County, including Blood, Sweat & Tears, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and bluegrass band the Seldom Scene.

But first, it will turn the spotlight on an emerging new artist: Ellicott City fifth-grader Austin Lee.

Austin's colorful drawing, which includes overlapping images of crayons, a paintbrush and palette, a violin, a cello and a piano, was chosen in a contest for students in kindergarten through 12th grade as the design for festival posters and T-shirts.

Austin also received a $500 award.

Faced with applauding festival supporters and flashing cameras Thursday night, Austin, 10, said quickly, "Thank you, everybody. I am very proud." He then handed the microphone back to the festival staff.

Contest judge Kathy O'Dell, an associate dean at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, offered a few more comments.

The winning design "needed to really stimulate our thinking about more than one art form," she said. It also had to be "festive" and "a strong piece in and of itself."

The festival, running June 9-24, will kick off with a three-day LakeFest celebration with free music, visual arts and family entertainment at the Columbia lakefront.

This year, Columbia's birthday celebration will be part of LakeFest's opening night June 9. And the Kinetic Art Parade and the Howard County Boat Float will be held June 10.

The event also will feature the unveiling of a public art project developed by the festival and the Columbia Association Art Center, called Making an Entrance.

Artists from around the world have submitted concepts for turning simple wooden doors into works of art. Now the best designs - chosen by a jury - have been posted online at www.makinganentrance.org, where sponsors can choose a door to support financially.

About 100 doors are expected to be on display at LakeFest and then at venues throughout the festival.

The "Entrance" project also will include a show at the Columbia Art Center in which community leaders will be invited to turn a small door into a work of art. The theme will be an event or experience that inspired the individual to take on a leadership role in the community.

A third part of the project will invite artists to buy bookends shaped like doors from the Art Center and decorate them. The "bookshelf doors" will be judged in a contest at the festival and then sold.

The festival's executive director, Nichole Hickey, said a committee of visual artists thought about a public art project, such as Baltimore's Fish Out of Water project, and liked the idea of doors.

"We were trying to come up with something functional," she said.

Hickey said the theme of doors will carry through from the opening events to the close of the festival, when Diavolo will incorporate doors into one of its acrobatic performances June 24.

She said it was serendipitous that Diavolo uses doors - as well as chairs and stairways - in its sets, which are the backdrop for dramatic leaps and twirls. The group is led by Jacques Heim, a Cirque Du Soleil choreographer.

Hickey said she is particularly excited to have the East Village Opera Company performing at the festival June 17. The group includes a five-piece band, a string quartet and two singers who perform inventive, rock-influenced arrangements of well-known opera selections.

When she saw the group's audition tape, "I just said `yes,' " Hickey said. "I get really excited about groups that are fusing different elements - changing a genre, if you will."

She said that description also applies to Blood, Sweat & Tears, a band that has combined rock and jazz to create several Top-40 hits. They will be joined by vocalist Chuck Negron, formerly of the musical group Three Dog Night.

The festival is planning several partnerships with other Howard County groups.

The first free Comcast Sunset Serenades concert at Centennial Park will be presented by the festival. Progressive bluegrass band the Seldom Scene will play June 14.

Belmont Conference Center's summer concert series begins June 15 with a festival-sponsored concert and picnic dinner on the historic manor's grounds in Elkridge. Dublin-based band Grada will blend Irish traditional music and contemporary styles.

The festival is joining with the Howard County Library, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society and Borders Books and Music to bring in pop-up book creator Robert Sabuda for workshops, speeches and a book signing. His elaborate, three-dimensional pop-up scenes have made him a hit with readers across the country.

The festival is also excited to have Irvin Mayfield, the cultural ambassador for the City of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra performing June 13.

"We thought it was very important to support New Orleans artists," said John Duncan, the festival's program coordinator.

Several more acts are on the schedule as well, including:

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