The Driftless Area Art Festival, a deft blend of art and good business, celebrates its tenth anniversary this September. Over the past decade, the Festival, held each fall in Soldiers Grove has helped to build both the cultural and the economic health of the area, bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the economy, and bringing artists and art lovers together in a yearly weekend of community celebration.
Sales by visual artists alone topped $114,000 at last year’s festival, with totals over the nine years of the festival’s existence approaching $650,000. Sales by food and beverage vendors, showcasing local, regional and organic offerings, were over $17,000 in 2013. And calculations based on guidelines issued by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism show that the 2013 Festival brought an additional $385,000 into the area.
Added together, artists’ sales, food sales, and spending at area restaurants, lodgings and other businesses in 2013 alone totaled $516,000, and another good year is expected in 2014. Clearly, the Driftless Area Art Festival is good for the arts and good for the area.
The yearly event also nurtures art in the very young. Its KidsArt Gallery and Teen Art Gallery exhibit works by young artists at every grade level through high school. Selected pieces by elementary students, sold at live auction at the yearly fundraising gala, have generated a total of $8,135 to date in support of school art programs. And in the KidsArt Gallery tent, young festivalgoers can create art pieces, have their faces painted, and enjoy the works of over 400 kids from all over the Driftless region.
The festival began in 2005 as the Crawford County Art Festival, and it was held for its first two years in Ferryville. In the first year, 53 visual artists took part and almost 2,000 people attended. The number of artists and the size and enthusiasm of the crowds grew, and the yearly event was re-organized as multi-county and multi-state in 2007. It would include the entire Driftless Area, the land never touched by the glaciers, which includes much of southwestern Wisconsin, and also parts of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa and northwestern Illinois. To accommodate all the artists and the growing crowds, the Driftless Area Art Festival moved to a larger park in Soldiers Grove. In 2013 more than 5,000 visitors met artists and took home art and happy memories.
This year’s tenth festival, September 20 and 21, will feature 80 visual artists from across the Driftless region, and they’ll bring drawings and prints, ceramics, fiber, glass, jewelry, metal works, mixed media, oil and watercolor paintings, pastels, photography, wood carvings, turnings and furniture and sculpture.
In addition, four groups of performing artists from the area will entertain on the main stage, and eight culinary artists will offer festivalgoers a variety of locally sourced organic and sustainably grown food and drink.
Every year, about 20 percent of the artists at the festival are new to the event. That means 80 percent are back for a second, third, or in the case of six artists, tenth time. Four visual artists, one performing arts group and one culinary artist have exhibited, played or vended every single year.
Two new elements are being added in this tenth anniversary year. ‘My Favorite Artist’ ballots will let young festivalgoers vote for the artist they like the best, whether a participating visual artist, a teen artist, a KidsArt exhibitor, a performing artist or a culinary artist. And in a new Artisan Edibles tent, exhibitors will offer samples and sell their creations for later consumption. These exhibitors may also be offering demonstrations or providing recipes, cooking and nutrition tips.
Driftless Area Art Festival Partners, who give significant support to the event, include People’s State Bank, Village of Soldiers Grove and the Soldiers Grove Community Development Corporation, Wisconsin Public Radio, and Community Development Alternatives, Inc. Full listings of Festival sponsors, visual artists, performing artists, food vendors, plus additional information on becoming a Friend or a Purchase Award Patron, are available at www.driftlessareaartfestival.com.