One of Lexington’s longstanding rites of late summer returns this weekend with the 41st annual Woodland Art Fair, but who’s counting? Each August, the event brings hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors to Woodland Park for an arty transition from summer to the fall cultural season.
As the fair has approached its fifth decade, there have been numerous changes and new initiatives at the event. As Woodland week started, we decided to run a few questions past Stephanie Harris, executive director of the Lexington Art League, which presents the fair each year in conjunction with Lexington Parks and Recreation.
Q. The Woodland Art Fair has evolved in recent years. What new features can fair-goers expect this year?
A. Over the past few years, LAL has invested a good amount of resources and planning into finding news ways to support local artists, and to also engage the public with art making during the event.
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The Big Tent program was the first initiative in that effort, which allows four local artists to participate in Woodland as a training opportunity. These artists may not have had experience selling at a large fine art and craft fair, and for them, this experience has proven to be instrumental to their growth. Many of the artists who first participated through this program are now part of the 200 juried artists at Woodland each year.
This year, along with the Big Tent, LAL will be providing hands-on learning for patrons at the event through three new public-engagement spaces. These spaces are designed to engage the public with the creative process in an organic and inclusive manner. The activities this year include the Dreaming Tree, where visitors are asked to write down a dream on a strip of fabric and then install it on a structure surrounding the tree in the center of the park. This space will provide an opportunity for all to participate in constructing a large public art work by sharing their dreams anonymously for others to read, and in doing so, they are sharing an aspect of their human experience with others. The Share a Stare space will ask participants to spend time quietly observing another person, and through that process, a meaningful connection can be made, again touching upon the interconnectedness of us all. Lastly, there will be a drawing area, that is being led by local artists and will provide a space for patrons to participate in interactive drawing sessions. These spaces will be active throughout the weekend and are meant to encourage our guests to learn more about the creative process while enjoying the amazing works of art that are at the fair this year.
As in previous years, we also will provide a community engagement space where other nonprofits will have an opportunity to engage the audience at Woodland, while also promoting their organizations. Each year, we provide this free opportunity as a gesture of support to the wonderful nonprofits that add so much to our community.
Q. Let’s talk numbers. How many people have come to the fair annually the last few years? How many artists and vendors come? And how many people does it take to put the festival on?
A. The total attendance each year is 65,00 to 70,000, depending on the weather. The Woodland Art Fair for many years has been one of Central Kentucky’s largest outdoor cultural events that is a huge driver to our local economy. We have 200 artists that are juried into the fair each year, and of those, we always feature 50 Kentucky artists. LAL has the support of over 50 volunteers each year, with additional and invaluable support from our partners at Parks and Recreation.
Q. Tell us about the jury and awards process for the art fair. That’s a lot of artists to look through.
Jurying Woodland can be a daunting task. That is why we engage jurors each year who have specific experience in the field of fine art and craft. This year we had the help of Julie Sweitzer and Irwin Pickett, whose bios can be found on the LAL website (Lexingtonartleague.org). We receive over 500 applications each year, and from that pool, the jurors select 200, with an additional few for the wait list, in case we have last-minute cancellations. The whole process is blind and completed online to ensure that every artist has the same opportunity to participate in the fair. The applications are judged on a universal scoring system, so the 200 artists that you see at Woodland represent the top artists in each category of fine art and craft. Again this year, the Woodland Art Fair has been ranked in the top 50 fine art and craft fairs in the country, so guests will be seeing work from the best artists in the field of fine art and craft.
Q. What strikes you, and what do you think will strike people, about art and the state of art when visiting the fair?
A. Again, the exceptional quality of the artwork included this year will highlight the amazing skill of these artists who each year make their entire living through fine art and craft fairs. In recent years, art sales have become harder and harder to come by as our economy has been in a decline, but these artists are resilient and are masterful at adapting to the changing needs of that market. We anticipate record sales once again this year.
Q. What is the importance of the fair to the Lexington Art League and its annual operations?
A. The Woodland Art Fair provides vital support for LAL each year and represents a large portion of our annual operating budget. But beyond its financial impact to our organization, this event allows us to engage an astounding number of community members each year with the work of LAL, which also drives our annual membership program. The fair also helps us to find new artists to work with, and it has a positive impact on our volunteer pool, which is vital to LAL operations. Lastly, for us, this is a very meaningful way for us to give back to the community that has supported our organization since its founding. We are stewards of very critical aspect of our cultural community, and Woodland has been a major driver in the development of our visual arts community.
If you go
Woodland Art Fair
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
Where: Woodland Park, 601 E. High St.
Parking: Street parking available around the park. Shuttles will run from the LexTran Transit Center, entering from High Street near Martin Luther King Boulevard; the Phoenix parking lot between Water and Vine streets, bounded by Ayers and Hernandez; and the Lexington Herald-Leader, 100 Midland Ave.