Crafting summer 2021
By Alex Krutchik
They might look different, they might feel different, but arts festivals are coming back to Cleveland this summer. Just in time for warm weather and a higher UV index, the streets of Cleveland will soon be filled with art, music and theater performances.
While summer arts festivals can typically bring in over 10,000 people in one given weekend, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it a challenge to balance safety with the high-quality experience to which artists and attendees have grown accustomed.
Festivals such as the 30th Annual Art in the Village with Craft Marketplace by Howard Alan Events & American Craft Endeavors will take on an adapted look when it comes to Lyndhurst on June 5.
“It’s sort of a shift in perspective,” says Elizabeth Dashiell, publicist for Howard Alan Events. “This is an outdoor, socially-distanced art stroll. It isn’t stopping and standing around, clustered together, breathing on each other.”
Howard Alan Events, which hosts numerous similar events around the nation similar to Art in the Village, has been working on its COVID-19 safety protocols since March 2020, as it canceled last summer’s events. Its shows, which are normally outdoors to begin with, will be “very similar” as prior years, according to Dashiell. Howard Alan will also host the 5th Annual Flats Festival of the Arts on Aug. 21 and 22 in the Flats of Cleveland.
However, Dashiell says guests might notice there are only about two-thirds the usual number of artists at the festivals. Additionally, masks must be worn while attendees are in festivals’ promenade area, and one-way directional traffic must be maintained. In order to limit the number of attendees at the festival at one time, it will employ entrance monitors. The artists’ booths are spaced 6 feet apart, and the number of people standing within each booth will be limited.
“We want to make sure everyone, both attendees and the artists and craft artisans, feel as safe as possible,” Dashiell says. “Even in locations where there are no mask mandates, we tell people to wear them. And artists reserve the right to ask you to leave the booth if you are not wearing one.”
BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival, a theater festival that began in Cleveland in 2019, is a biannual event, meaning it was one of the only large-scale events that did not have to be canceled last year. At the 2019 BorderLight Festival, there were roughly 40 unique productions and special events that engaged more than 260 artists from Cleveland, nine U.S. states and eight countries.
“We saw it as an opportunity because we are a new organization,” says Cathleen O’Malley, communications director for BorderLight Festival. “We are a small staff. We don’t own the venues. We are limber. We’re not a brick-and-mortar institution, and we had an opportunity. The opportunity presented itself to redefine, in this pandemic year, what this festival could look like.”
In 2019, shows ranged from a circus tent on Public Square, to pop-up performances that engaged audience members on the street, to an Israeli-Russian clown trio that performed a silent physical comedy production.
A vast majority of these shows were done indoors in 2019. While the festival was planning outdoor programming from July 22 through July 24 along the West Bank of the Flats, in early May it made the decision to postpone in-person programming until at least 2022 and go fully virtual this year.
“This decision is heart wrenching and was not taken lightly,” read a May 6 news release from Borderlight’s board and staff. “While in many parts of the U.S. COVID-19 news is increasingly positive, there are still concerns that make a summer 2021 event challenging. Discussions with key public health officials have led to several considerations: The current state of vaccination uptake in our region remains low, with many residents still unvaccinated and at high risk of disease; the unpredictability of highly contagious emerging variants, which have been overwhelmingly impacting younger populations; and the effects of prolonged COVID-19 related border closures on the festival’s core international programming. All of this created a situation of uncertainty, leading to delays in planning, challenges in finalizing funding and difficulties in contracting.”
For longtime institutions such as the Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland, details of this year’s activities remain in limbo. Although John Horton, manager of media relations at Cuyahoga Community College, promises it will be back in some capacity this summer, whether virtually or in-person. The festival was held virtually in 2020.
“One way or another, the music will continue at Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland for a 42nd consecutive year,” Horton says. “How that will be accomplished safely as the community continues to deal with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic remains under discussion. We anticipate an announcement soon.”
(The JazzFest was later announced to take place from Sept. 11 to 12 at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights. It will also offer a livestream for those unable to attend.)
At Art in the Village, Dashiell says the booths will be arranged gallery-style outside. Guests will essentially walk through an outdoor gallery showcase experience. The art that people will see ranges anywhere from $30 to $5,000. For crafts, they’ll see items costing from $2 up to $1,000.
Dashiell adds that Art in the Village is unique because every artist and artisan is there all weekend and in-person. She says the benefit is “you can see something absolutely unique and incredibly diverse.”
“There are mediums that didn’t even exist when I was in school,” Dashiell says. “The joy is, you can actually speak to the artists right then and there, on the spot and say, ‘What am I looking at? How in the world did you make that?’ And they can tell you their whole process. They can even tell you the inspiration behind it. … They come from all over the country. Some people come from other parts of the world and have settled in the United States. Their stories are as diverse and inspiring as the art itself.”
As for BorderLight, the festival is moving ahead with virtual fringe and self-guided audio programming to be streamed online this year and accessible from anywhere.
O’Malley cites a performance from the 2019 Cleveland festival called “Kingdom Chasm.” An old, dilapidated Mercedes-Benz was driven up from New Orleans by the ensemble, parked on Public Square, disemboweled and used as a stage. It served as a living art installation that the show was performed around. In lieu of lighting, the festival organizers scheduled the show in a way where the sun was setting during the performance. Creative modes of entertainment such as this continue to inspire the organizers of the BorderLight Festival in this crazy era.
Dashiell adds that this summer’s festivals will be a chance for people to recapture some sense of normalcy.
“We have received emails, phone calls and people coming up to me to say, ‘Thank you so much. I can’t imagine what it took for you guys to do this, but it feels like I have my own life back just for this moment.’ It will feel that similar.”
If you go
• Howard Alan Events’ 30th Annual Art in the Village with Craft Marketplace is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 5, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 6 at Legacy Village, 25001 Cedar Road in Lyndhurst. Admission is free. For more information and updates, visit artfestival.com.
• Howard Alan Events’ 5th Annual Flats Festival of the Arts is from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 21, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 22 at 1055 Old River Road in Cleveland. Admission is free. For more information and updates, visit artfestival.com.
• BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival will host virtual programming at borderlightcle.org
• Tri-C JazzFest Cleveland is from Sept. 11 to 12 at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights. For more information, visit tri-c.edu/jazzfest