The 22nd Annual Virtu Art Festival kicks off on Saturday, May 26 with 150 artists coming from nine states to display their art for admiration and purchase across the fourteen beautiful acres of Wilcox Park. The festival’s name is Latin for “Love of Fine Arts,” and will feature both performance and visual art in a wide variety of mediums.
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All items featured in the festival must be handmade and cannot be imported or mass produced, although prints of handmade originals are acceptable. The types of works represented range from oils, acrylics, watercolors, and charcoal, to crafts and practical items such as blown glass, pottery, furniture, jewelry, clothing, soap, and silverware – a whole variety.
“This year we were approached by a maker of custom mouse traps,” Lisa Konicki, President of the Ocean Community Chamber of Commerce, said. “They’re in the process of sending us pictures for approval, so they may be in the festival this year. It’s truly an eclectic mix.”
Lisa has been behind the festival since year one. When she was hired in the fall, the Board of Directors had already determined that they wanted an art festival to take place in the spring, so Lisa leapt into action. There had been an art show in Wilcox Park in prior years, but a lack of public support eventually led to its demise. Local police were ticketing a lot of vehicles and that turned off some of the artists, so for a time there was no art show at all. With the new millennium approaching, the Chamber felt it was time to resurrect it and bring art back to Westerly.”
“We did a lot of work with the town’s administration and police department, and we secured volunteers so that the artists would feel welcomed,” Lisa said.
That first year back saw 185 participants, which proved to be too much of a good thing, as Lisa explained.
“We have actually reduced the size to allow for a smoother process setting up. 150 is the maximum we now allow and things work well with this cap in place. It usually takes us 3 hours after the show concludes to have the entire park empty, with the help of about 20 volunteers. It’s been a great run, but we could not do this show without volunteers. Some artists drive for hours just to get here, and then it can take hours to set up their stations. The park is a delicate setting and we cannot drive on the lawn to get to the artists’ booths. We use golf carts and trailers to shuttle their items to their space. If it weren’t for the army of volunteers helping to unload vehicles and set up tents, the show would not sustain itself.”
Initially, the festival was strictly about what one might consider “typical” fine art, but there have been some changes over the years. “We try to incorporate the natural environment of the park into the show, by inviting individuals who knit to participate in a yarn bombing program,” Lisa went on to explain.
“Yarn bombing” is a term for when individuals take yarn and cover everyday objects, such as stop signs, fire hydrants, and buses. At Virtu this year, you can expect to see at least a few trees wrapped in warm and vibrant sweaters. “It’s been very well received the last three years, and I think it raises awareness of knitting and crocheting, which was sort of considered a dying art. The process started almost as a form of vandalism but now it’s embraced because it’s so interesting, unique, and fun and it’s engaging for children. I think it’s helping to inspire a younger generation.”
Another way the festival organizers have involved children is the implementation of the Creation Station. There, families will find all of the supplies and instructions they need for kids to create two crafts at no charge, and they have several different options to choose from, including a visor, a beach bucket, a picture frame, or a jewelry box.
New to the festival this year will be four Westerly artists who have never participated in an art show before. “I love that people view this event as a great opportunity to take that first step in sharing their work with a wider audience,” Lisa shared. “David Culton, for example, is a photographer and I’ve been following his work for the past few years – it’s very artistic, very unusual, and I reached out to him and suggested he participate this year. Hopefully it will be a confidence booster for him and help him gain a new audience who will appreciate his amazing perspective.”
Mystic Knotwork specializes in handmade rope place mats, key chains, and coasters and recently won the Rising Star Award at the Connecticut Governor’s Conference on Tourism. They will participating for the first time this year by running demonstrations of their knotting skills.
“I love to see people take a chance, step out of the box, and share their passion,” Lisa said. “It’s a festival that brings everyone together, and we bring in some amazing talents. It’s really the official kick off for the season.”