How do you get people to appreciate the arts in a small town in North Dakota? ...by throwing a big party, of course!
When Lisa Crosby became Director for the Lake Region Heritage Center (LRHC) in January 2019, she immediately "wanted to do something fun and arts related" to bring people to the facility, located in Devils Lake. That spring, she attended a workshop hosted by Jennifer Parker, an art instructor, judge, former Executive ART Director for Nelsen County Arts Council and artist in her own right. Jennifer explained her involvement with the hugely successful Pekin Days Art Show, which then became the inspiration for the Lake Region Arts Festival.
The annual Pekin Days Art Show, which held its 26th celebration in June 2019, is a 4-day event including art vendors, demonstrations, children's activities and live music in the city park. It is well attended by people from all over the region and is gaining in national attention. Lisa wondered if she could hold a similar event to highlight the arts in Lake Region. Her goal was never to compete with Pekin Days but instead, add another event to the artists' summer.
With the help of funding via North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA), including Institutional Support and CARES grants, Lisa and her team were able to begin preparations for the first ever Lake Region Arts Festival, which was scheduled for June 2021.
Summarizing the 2021 event, Lisa explained, "The Lake Region Arts Festival encompassed all visual and performance arts. 2021 kicked off with the artists reception and sale on Friday evening with a previously judged show. We were honored to welcome [renowned ND painter] Walter Piehl as our first judge. We gave $7,000 in award money to the top 3 artists in their divisions. On Saturday, we had choirs, orchestra, theatre, Native American dancers, drummers and singers and a “Bring Your Own Instrument” bluegrass jam. The art show was open to the public all day on Saturday in the Lake Region Heritage Center as well. [Let's not] forget about the food trucks, face painting, blacksmithing, glass blowing and balloon making. It was a fantastic day!"
Lisa and her team were thrilled to see so many people at the festival. She went on to say, "The community came out and LOVED it. It was so much fun visiting with people, especially folks from other towns coming into our community and spending the entire day here. For me, it was exciting to see the artists that were able to come and enjoy the day, eating, listening to music and getting to know each other." In fact, the success from the event inspired the Devils Lake Chamber of Commerce to award Lisa with the 2021 Chamber Member of the Year award, due to her direct involvement in the festival. Thanks to her leadership, the city of Devils Lake agreed to put $20,000 into the green space in the downtown area, which will benefit businesses, residents and future festivals.
The planning for the 2nd Annual Lake Region Arts Festival (LRAF) is underway, scheduled for Saturday, June 18, 2022, with the artist reception on Friday, June 17th. Lisa exclaimed, "I am excited and nervous at the same time." The planning committee hopes to add poetry, more food trucks, art vendors with some interactive lessons and more activities for the whole family.
Lisa's passion and enthusiasm were highly evident when she recanted the details and stories behind the 2021 event. She explained how the people who came out and contributed were all somehow connected to the history of the area and therefore wanted to be a part of this new legacy in the making.
Without that chance encounter with Jennifer at the arts workshop, Lisa said the idea of the festival would never have fully developed. She explained that Jennifer's story "lit a fire" within her to try and create an event similar to Pekin Days, yet unique unto itself. The inspiration lead to the success of an event that will forever be known as the Lake Region Arts Festival.
True fans of the arts know that supporting fellow events is just as important as supporting our own. If an event is modeled after another, it's because it was done well, attracted people, and helped to lift up some of the qualities that make the arts essential to living a full life.
By Rhea C. Beto