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A Superb Debut For Newtown Arts Festival At FFH

The Newtown Arts Festival, held this past weekend, was, in a word, superb.

After more than two years of planning, members of Newtown Cultural Arts Commission presented a two-day event at Fairfield Hills that offered a few thousand visitors everything from fine art to whirligigs.

 Organizers had committed to running the festival rain or shine on September 15–16, and fortunately Mother Nature cooperated. While Saturday dawned cloudy and even a little rainy, by 8 am the sun was breaking through. With the sun and blue skies came wind, unfortunately, which meant the Re/Max balloon that was going to be offering tethered rides for a few hours could not launch. But the early autumn weather was otherwise perfect all weekend, and the festival went on as planned, nine hours each day.

People of all ages spent hours exploring the booths, lecture and performing arts tents, and a food court that had been set up over the three acres of soccer and baseball fields off D.G. Beers Boulevard.

The wind was a blessing, in fact, for Warren and Jean Angel, owners of Angel Whirligigs. What better weather than winds to demonstrate their wares — old-fashioned wooden whirligigs and airplanes fashioned from soda and beer cans?

A large tent in the southern area of the field served as the Live Performance Entertainment Tent, while a smaller tent at the north end of the field hosted dance, music, and theater workshops and performances.

A sculpture garden created by the artist Ethan Currier of Sticks and Stones Farm in the center of the field also turned into a temporary performance space on Saturday when dancers from The Graceful Planet offered a series of living sculptures. Dozens of toddlers and young children also amused themselves trying to mimic many of the sculptures, which included a ballet teacher and a group of students along with a few animals, including dogs and a dragon. Adults were captivated as well by Mr Currier’s work, with many admiring a large table that held two sailboats, all created from stone.

Sandy Hook artist Jim Travers also had a large bronzed sculpture on view.

Late Saturday afternoon a flash mob populated an area in the field adjacent to the sculpture garden.

Vendors were talented and diverse.

While Tess Vogel and Cleo Conk offered henna tattoos at one table, Cleo’s mother, Mary Fellows, was next to them, selling cups of organic apple cider, lemonade, or iced tea, “or half-and-half, which is really popular,” she said, mixing another cup that combined lemonade and iced tea. The trio was part of a small selection of regulars from The Farmers Market at Fairfield Hills, which continues to celebrate its tenth season.

Food vendors were lined up along the southwestern end of the field, parallel to Beers Boulevard. Offerings ranged from the hot dogs and hamburgers hot off the Hook & Ladder grill, beef and pork kabobs, and BBQ at neighboring booths to ice cream, deep fried Oreos and funnel cakes, and baked goods at the opposite end of the field, the latter coming from Dina Mankiewicz of Bake My Day Bakery.

For those looking for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, Aurora’s Gypsy Café had that as well.

There was no alcohol sold during the festival, which continued the very family friendly atmosphere. Most visitors also listened to (or were aware of) the request to leave dogs at home.

Vendor Coordinator Stacey Olszewski had purposely created a vendor area, she said, filled with several quads, or tents grouped in four.

“I did a lot of squares, so that vendors had a lot of frontage,” she said Saturday. “We put four booths together, in a lot of locations, which meant vendors had 20 feet of public access instead of ten, and they really seemed to like that.”

Other tents were lined along the edge of the field, and a few, including the Inspiration Stations that offered ongoing workshops, had double-size openings to allow easy access for participants. Each day, visitors to these stations were encouraged to try their hand at fiber arts, creating art using recycled CDs, exploring different cultures, or trying their hand at Odyssey of the Mind projects.

For those looking for fine arts, Newtown Municipal Center was home to exhibitions by Flagpole Photographers and The Society of Creative Arts of Newtown.

In addition to promising plenty of familiar art forms, organizers had encouraged the public to attend the festival — which offered all of its workshops and performances for a $5 admission fee — so that they could try something new. Workshops covered a wide range of interests, and many were very well attended.

The encouragement to try something new also caught the attention of Anna Cartelli, who was probably the youngest vendor of the weekend.

Anna, 12, had a booth where she displayed and sold her artwork.

“I saw one of the arts festival posters when I was going to the movies with some of my friends one night and I remember telling them ‘I want to do that,’” she said.

By late Sunday the reality was beginning to set in for organizers: The Arts Festival was a success.

“Today it struck me: the energy at the festival felt like a huge family party was going on, everyone happy and friendly, and very supportive of each other. I must say thank you, Newtown! for showing up in great numbers this weekend,” said Jen Rogers, a member of the arts festival committee. She noted that many people who showed up on Saturday returned on Sunday. Not everyone who went back for the second day, she pointed out, “didn’t even get the prefestival ticket deal [both days for a single admission charge of $5] we offered. That makes me feel good, that [we] offered something worth coming back for.”

“Thank you to all those who presented and performed, demonstrated and taught workshops all weekend, participated in probably Newtown’s first flash mob, and made truly joyful sculptures — and living sculptures — for us all to enjoy,” said Ms Rogers. “What an ideal start to a hopefully long-running Newtown event!”

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