Columbus, Ohio USA
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Riverfront Art Festival
Jay Snyder's Downtown Fall Festival
A Colorful Celebration in Columbus

By Margaret Marten
September 2010 Issue

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Jay Synder, founder of the By Hand Artisan Guild has established two annual juried art shows –
the Riverfront Art Festival in Columbus and By Hand Cleveland in northern Ohio.

Five years ago, Jay Snyder gathered together 69 artists in Goodale Park for an arts festival and has continued to energize the arts community and brighten the Columbus landscape with this cultural event every year. The festival of artists and musicians will return to Columbus for three days of arts and entertainment beginning Friday, September 17 through Sunday, September 19 in Genoa Park downtown.

In 2005, Snyder established By Hand, Ltd., to promote and support working artists. As a former fair director at the Ohio Designer Craftmen, he hit the ground running with his new venture after leaving ODC that year. Encouraged by the success of Cleveland By Hand, his first art fair, Snyder moved forward with the Goodale Park Art Festival in 2006 – renamed the Riverfront Art Festival when it relocated to Genoa Park three years ago. Both shows, in Cleveland and Columbus, developed into annual events with a faithful flock of followers.

Donald Pekarek, of Algonquin, Ill., set up a booth at Snyder’s festival in Goodale Park five years ago and has returned every year to Columbus. His jewelry, rings in gold and silver with gemstones, range from $90 to $1000, and sales are good. He said he did well that first year in spite of the modest number of booths and attendees.

“The first year it was kind of a small show,” said Pekarek. “I still did very well. Jay promoted the show and a lot of people came and a lot of people bought. The second year, it was probably more than double the size, more than double the number of exhibitors, and the crowd was much larger.”

Interestingly, Pekarek prefers the small shows. He said there are basically two different types of shows: the ones that are done by large promoters, like some in Chicago with over 300 booths and perhaps a dozen different fairs promoted by the same source, and then there are those organized by local art guilds, a city’s cultural arts department, or an individual working on a smaller scale who interacts closely with the artists and the community.

Having traveled the art show circuit since 1986, and made a good living at it, he recalls when an art festival was a very special event, but because of the growing industry of festivals, he says “it’s gone from something special to something that’s pretty routine.” But that does not detract from the delight of direct contact with his buyers. “It’s fun to get out and meet people and actually meet the end user of what I make,” Pekarek said. The Columbus and Cleveland shows run by Snyder offer something more intimate for artists like Pekarek than the mass-marketed exhibitions. “There’s a lot of loyalty to Jay’s show,” he said. “Many people enjoy the more intimate shows.”

Snyder, 31, shifted gears this year when he transformed By Hand, Ltd. into a membership nonprofit. The newly named By Hand Artisan Guild will continue to offer the two annual festivals – Cleveland By Hand and Riverfront Art Festival – in service of working artists and art patrons. There are no membership fees for participating artists or those who have exhibited two out of the last three years. The shift could be considered, by someone like Pekarek, more fully attuned to the dynamics of what Snyder’s shows are really about – promoting a cultural event and supporting artists rather than big business.

Cody Miller of Columbus won last year’s “Best in Show,” at the Riverfront Art Festival. This is an example of his current work – Stand, in mixed media.

The relationship with artists is vitally important to Snyder, who admits he has a less than stellar view of those promoting shows purely for profit, even if it means profit for the artist. “I think there are a lot of people sadly who put on these festivals and just see them as checkbooks and then nail their checks for the boothspace. I, on the other hand, believe I work for them [the artists] and they hire me.”

Columbus printmaker Trudi Duncan, another regular on the By Hand circuit, said Snyder’s rapport with the artists is exceptional. “He’s a young guy, but boy is he good. He’s very attuned to the needs of the artists and craftsmen. He just goes out of his way to set up a very nice rapport with them to make sure everybody is in touch with what he’s about and what he’s trying to do.”

The dynamics of that relationship will come more fully into play with the development of the nonprofit By Hand Artisan Guild, giving artists direct impact on decision-making with their voting membership. “I have learned more than anything else that for someone who is in the business of promoting artists to succeed, the best resource is the artists themselves,” said Snyder.

The festival focus may be artists and their work, but music and food are a major draw to the Riverfront event as well. Entertainment begins on Friday at 5 p.m. with jazz vocalist Sabrina Tutstone, followed by Opera Columbus performing to a backdrop of WaterFire on the Scioto River beginning at 7 p.m. The WaterFire will also be staged with the Celtic rock performance of Ladies of Longford Saturday night. Pete Bush and the Hoi Polloi, an acoustic punk jazz band will arrive from Pittsburgh on Saturday to kick off the day’s non-stop music schedule. A very special appearance on Sunday begins at 3 p.m. with Hard Day’s Night, the renowned Beatle’s tribute band based in Cleveland.

And, of course, over 150 local and national juried artists, working in every medium from fine oil paintings and sculpture to affordable functional pottery and wearable art, will be on hand to tell you about their work and their process. After working long hours in studios to produce their valuable work, these artists are looking forward to the stimulation of conversation and commerce along the beautiful banks of the Scioto River. Come by. Admire and appreciate what they have to offer.

Riverfront Art Festival:Something for everyone - Juried art, fine crafts, music, and food, all in a scenic setting along the Scioto River.
WHEN, Fri., September 17, 2010 (5-10p), Sat., September 18, 2010 (12-10p), Sun., September 19, 2010 (12-5p)
WHERE, Genoa Park (located downtown on Washington Blvd. just east of COSI)

© 2010 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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