Photography courtesy Walton Arts Center

 

Above Photo: The Trail Mix Concert Tour includes visiting and local musicians performing while pedestrians and cyclists enjoy the trail system in northwest Arkansas.

If April showers bring May flowers, then the vivid and colorful May flowers all about are a sign that one of Arkansas’ most unique festivals is just around the corner. Artosphere: Arkansas’ Arts + Nature Festival, held annually in northwest Arkansas in June, is the only event of its kind in the region. The festival’s mission is “to celebrate artists, influenced by nature, who inspire us to live more sustainable lives.”

“Artosphere grew out of our desire to bring interesting work into the community, combined with the growing awareness of environmental issues shared by individuals in northwest Arkansas,” said Jenni Taylor Swain, vice president of programs at the Walton Arts Center. “We wanted the arts to be a part of the conversation that the community was already interested in having.”

The two-week long event, scheduled for June 16 through 27, will utilize multiple locations around northwest Arkansas to present a variety of theater and dance performances, musical programs and public art installations.

 

Putting the “Art” in Artosphere

One unique aspect of the Artosphere festival is the opportunities it provides for members of the community to become a part of the event through interactive art. An example of this is the “I Think I Can” exhibit from the Terrapin Puppet Theatre in Tasmania, Australia. The piece, which will be installed in the center’s Joy Pratt Markham Gallery, consists of a large model train set up to navigate a fictional town.

Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the work by becoming temporary residents of the town via a tiny, interactive puppet character. Their stories will be rendered in video. As more people contribute to the narrative while it’s installed, the story of the fictional town will evolve. According to Terrapin Puppet Theatre’s website, the goal is to invite participants to consider the dynamic notions of residency and responsibility.

Fayetteville’s Community Creative Center will install “Remembered and Rendered: A Ceramic Garden,” which was created entirely by members of the community. Individuals attended free clay workshops in April and were invited to draw inspiration from wildflowers growing along the Fayetteville trail system. They then created porcelain flowers based on these real-life blooms.

 

Music in Nature

When choosing musicians to invite to be a part of the concert line-up for Artosphere, Taylor Swain looks for individuals and bands that are a good fit with the event’s mission.

“We look for artists who are, themselves, curious … artists who are thinking about the environment and are using their art to express those thoughts.”

One of the more than 150 musicians who will participate this year is Jayme Stone, two-time Juno Award-winning banjoist. Stone’s recently released CD, The Lomax Project, is a collaborative project with some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians. It contains songs based on the archives of Alan Lomax, a folklorist and ethnomusicologist who amassed the most extensive collection of 20th century “roots” music recordings.

“Our focus is on folk songs, and a lot of those songs come from people in rural communities,” Stone said. “There are a few songs that don’t have a place or river name, or a reference to animals and nature. The heart of the material is very much rural.”

Another visiting musician, Rani Arbo — who will perform with her band, Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem — draws much of her songwriting inspiration from nature.

“Being outdoors, even just around our semi-urban neighborhood of Middletown, Conn., is a big source of peace and inspiration for me,” said Arbo. “While I’m walking, my head gets clear, and lyrics can start to float in — sometimes unbidden! I don’t do quite as well with a piece of paper and a pen and a desk.”

One of the most popular events in the Artosphere schedule is the Trail Mix Concert Tour. Visiting and local musicians perform while pedestrians and cyclists enjoy the natural beauty characteristic of the trail system in northwest Arkansas. This year’s performances will occur along the Frisco Trail in Fayetteville, but Taylor Swain hints that attendees should expect greater incorporation of the 36-mile Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway that eventually will traverse communities from Fayetteville to Bella Vista.

The Artosphere Festival Orchestra, led by music director Corrado Rovaris, brings orchestral musicians from around the world. Several concerts are scheduled during the festival at various performance venues around the area. Not only will they fill concert stages, but the Tiny Concert Tour and Chapel Music Series will also place small ensembles – sometimes only two or three musicians – in restaurants and churches or spiritual spaces around the area.

“Our community boasts some very special places,” said Taylor Swain, “and we wanted to work with artists to explore those unique locations.”

For a full schedule of events, and for more information on ticketing and locations, log on to waltonartscenter.org/artosphere.


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