The Taste of the Arts regional festival has gone from having four stages in its first year to finding enough elbow room for an 11th stage this weekend.
“The committee announced that the Memorial Park orchestra wants to play, so we’re going to squeeze them in somewhere,” coordinator Tena Woenker says, laughing. “A part of it gets more and more exciting because so many more people want to be involved, and every one of those performers does it for free, which just amazes me.”
The sixth annual Taste of the Arts festival on Saturday continues to grow with more stages and new backers to help sustain and support the free event.
Capping off the summer season, the one-day festival offers an array of arts organizations, food vendors and performances to draw in the community to the Arts Campus downtown.
As local children get back to school, Woenker says the event is a great opportunity for parents to find out about the extracurricular activities provided by local arts organizations.
“One of the core reasons we wanted to do this is so that people can find out that Fort Wayne Dance Collective offers classes for children as well as adults, or that Artlink hosts art classes,” she says. “I know from my own child’s experience some kids don’t do well academically because they’re more creative.
“When they are given an outlet, it helps them all around.”
Festival favorites return for daytime activities, including the Downtown Improvement District’s Busker Square, the FortArtisan Fine Arts Fair and the YLNI Barr Street Market with extended hours.
Artlink, The History Center and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art will also offer free admission during the festival.
The dessert after-party, including a live recording of 89.1 WBOI’s “Meet the Music” radio show and a free outdoor screening of “The Sandlot,” will conclude the evening.
New this year, the festival will have the opportunity to use the new ArtsLab black box theater that opened in January.
The versatile venue will feature varied acts, including the Settlers Inc.’s Hearthstone Ensemble, Fort Wayne Youtheatre and the alternative band Casket Sharp.
“A lot of people haven’t been in ArtsLab yet, so it will be a new experience for them,” Woenker says. “Maybe we will do a different set up each year so people can get a sense of how it can be changed. As the campus gets more and more animated with sculptures and the ArtsLab, I think people who haven’t come down on a regular basis are very curious and this gives them an excuse to come down.”
And with more visitors each year, the more the festival has to stay affordable.
Woenker says in order to sustain the festival in the future, organizers have teamed up with PNC Bank to match donations of $50 or more made from “Friends of the Taste” donors. Donors will have access to the PNC Cool Zone, coupons for food tickets and VIP parking in return.
“Last year, we went to the Arts United board of directors and asked if we could gate the festival and start charging admission, and they said absolutely not.
“The purpose of the Taste is to be accessible so any income group can come in and participate,” Woenker says. “By charging a ticket to participate, we exclude some families, and we want to expose those kids to art. The Friends of the Taste is just giving a push, so that people who can afford to pay, and would if we asked them to, have a chance to do that and help it stay free for everybody else.”
Woenker says the support comes at a time when the festival has a wish list of items that would make the event better, such as buying tents, instead of rentals, and with more out-of-town visitors coming in to the event, she says the festival is in need of larger signs.
But it’s important that the event doesn’t stray from its original intentions. Woenker says she doesn’t expect to transition into a weekend festival anytime soon, but because of the event’s rate of growth, that decision may not be left to the group.
“Since it’s one day, there’s one big crowd, and it doesn’t get split up, but if it keeps growing this big, we may have to split it in two days in the next five years because it might be too congested,” she says.
“For now, the lines are not too long and isn’t too crowded to see the stages, so we still have room to grow.”