GLOUCESTER — Local art lovers will have their next few weeks planned out for them.
After having to cancel in 2020 due the pandemic, the Gloucester Arts Festival is back for its fifth year with plenty of new programs as well as beloved returning events.
This year’s festival is Plein Air-themed, which is an 19th century style of painting outdoors.
The month-long festival kicked off on Friday, June 4 with an unveiling of sculptures on Main Street, and will continue through June 26.
The festival is presented by The Cook Foundation, which supports the arts and artistic needs of the Gloucester community.
Adrianne Ryder-Cook Joseph, founder of The Cook Foundation, said that the beauty of Gloucester makes for the perfect center of an arts festival.
“What I love about the plein air event that we hold every other year is that if you take a picture of a beautiful place you have a lovely representation of that beautiful place,” she said. “But when you paint it, the painter captures the heart and soul that it has. And that’s very special and it’s worth checking out.”
Throughout the month, guests can watch plein air artists from across the mid-Atlantic as they work, meet with the artists at the Brews and Brine oyster and beer event, attend an outdoor gala on the York River, and enjoy a free U.S. Fleet Forces Band Concert, as well as other special events.
The festival’s executive director, Jenny Crittenden, said that the festival’s regional and nationwide sponsors have allowed them to offer $20,000 in awards to the artists that come from all over the country.
The festival began as a week-long event in 2017 and has since grown into a month-long festival every June.
Chair of Gloucester Arts Festival, Mollie Stewart, said that this year’s event has drastically increased the community participation from previous years.
Two dozen members of the community have been working as volunteers for nearly a year to plan and create the event, while also ensuring that it is COVID-19 safe.
As a reference, they used Maryland’s annual Plein Air Easton Art Festival, the largest plein air event in the nation.
“We actually went to Easton in July to see how they were responding to COVID-19,” Stewart said. “We got some good ideas of what to do and what doesn’t work, and we sort of decided that since Gloucester is so beautiful and has so many lovely places, we could host a festival and keep everything outdoors and avoid any crowding whatsoever.”
This past weekend, the festival offered a free community concert from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, which is one of the most anticipated events in the Gloucester community for the past 15 years.
This year, the concert was held at Woodville Park, a new location due to COVID-19 restrictions, for an evening of outdoor music in wide open fields where attendees could space out.
Stewart said that some of the new events guests will experience is the expansion of opportunities for the public to see the painters at work.
On Saturday, June 19, there will be a Facebook premiere of a mini-documentary about the life and legacy of T.C. Walker, the first Black person to practice law in Gloucester County. In lieu of the cancelled festival last year, The Cook Foundation commissioned a large mural dedicated T.C. Walker that will be unveiled on Main Street.
The festival will culminate on Saturday, June 26, when guests will have a last chance to come and see all the paintings – and maybe take one home – at Arts on Main.
“I believe this is probably the most beautiful county in the state of Virginia,” Crittenden said. “So to be able to invite these incredibly talented plein air artists to capture that beauty on canvas and have your community be able to buy it. It’s really stunning.”
For more information on the festival, visit the Gloucester Arts Festival site.
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