Like clockwork, Wheeler Park has played host to around 100 artists each Fourth of July weekend for the past 12 years as part of the semiannual Art in the Park festival.
“It’s like putting on a big party in many, many ways,” says ceramicist and festival organizer Stu Wolf. “Somebody once said it’s like building a city, and that’s also really true. We get there at 5 o’ clock in the morning and by 9 o’ clock we’ve built a city. When the music starts and all of a sudden people show up, it’s like magic.”
If Art in the Park is its own city, then the population is made up of residents who know the difference between voting with their dollar in a chain store and supporting their community of hardworking artisans. The three-day event begins this Saturday before disappearing by Monday night to lay in wait for Labor Day weekend when the city is rebuilt.
“The experience is real, and the treasures unique,” says jeweler Ryanne Sebern, who has been exhibiting at the festival for the past seven years consecutively and on and off for a while before that. “You can't find that at a big chain store. And of course, by shopping at an art festival you support a community of artists. I'm super grateful to do what I love and appreciate every bit of support.”
Her jewelry takes inspiration from nature in the form of both abstract and representational designs. A combination of textures, metals and stones add striking contrast to her necklace and earring pendants.
Visitors throughout the weekend can browse a wide variety of one-of-a-kind arts and crafts while meeting the creative minds behind it all, but there’s no pressure to spend money as the entire event is free to attend.
“When you put a 20 dollar price tag on something you’ve told a part of this community, ‘You can’t come because you can’t afford to be here,’” Wolf says. “We get a very interesting demographic because of that. It isn’t just people with disposable income who want to buy a piece of art, it’s also people who just want to lie in the grass and listen to music.”
The festival also includes a lineup of nonstop music. Local guitarist Matt Bingham who first got involved in the festival in 2013 and has come back to perform each year since.
“It's great because people buy CDs and genuinely seem to want to listen and connect,” he says.
Bingham will be performing Saturday with Will Corso, one of his guitar students, and then Sunday with Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra cellist Andrew Hamby in The Light Meeting, a collaboration which came out of a mutual appreciation for calming, melodic music.
Other musical performances this year include Paul Perreault, Kent Simmons, Natalie Eickmeyer, Stan Clark, Pine Trio and more.
Bingham says he loves that the family-friendly event is held outdoors. While monsoon weather generally begins Fourth of July weekend, recent patterns have pushed that start date back, and a little rain never seemed to deter people from coming out anyway.
“We’ve never been rained out because the storms dump and everybody runs away then it stops and people come back,” Wolf says. “It’s Flagstaff. We’re waiting so hard for this rain that really people are not mad when it happens.”
Maryann Hamel, who creates decorative items out of her studio in Scottsdale under the name Curliosity Metalworks, is participating in several art shows across the state and in New Mexico this year but says she especially enjoys Art in the Park.
“It’s just a pleasure to leave Phoenix and do a show up there because the weather’s so nice.”
Her ornaments and wind chimes incorporate brass, copper and semi-precious stones to create unique gifts with a Southwest flair and she has several return customers each year.
“A lot of local people do come see me when I’m there who I’ve met before and also a lot of vacationers who happen to drive by and see it,” she says.
Wheeler Park’s central location across from Flagstaff City Hall and on Highway 180 toward the Grand Canyon makes it the perfect place to attract travelers. The colorful wares displayed in tents draw passersby in like a moth to the flame before the live music emanating from the stage and the smell of kettle corn and other food vendors confirms it might be worth sticking around a while.
“Lots of folks who are visiting Flagstaff see the festival because of its location,” Sebern says. “They often share with me that they are grateful they stopped to check it out.”
And if all the art, music and food weren’t enough, Page Springs Cellars & Vineyards will have a wine garden featuring refreshments from six Arizona wineries.
Visitors of all ages are sure to find something to take home, whether it’s a physical trinket or a fond memory of a beautiful summer day spent outside surrounded by art.
“We’ve become detached from the things we own,” Wolf says. “It wasn’t all that long ago when you knew who made your shoes, and certainly who made your clothes. Everything now is made in some faraway place by people we’ll never meet and, because of that, there’s a coldness to these things. An art show brings that back. You get to meet people who made these things, you get a sense of who they are, why they do this and as years go by and that thing’s hanging on your wall or you’re wearing it, that memory comes back and you have a different, and I think better, experience with a very simple object because of that connection.”
Art in the Park will be held at Wheeler Park, 212 W. Aspen Ave., Saturday and Sunday, June 30 and July 1, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Monday, July 2, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Matt Bingham will perform both Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Visit Flagstaff Art in the Park on Facebook for the full entertainment line-up and more information. www.flagstaffartinthepark.com