It’s hard to be nimble when you have 150,000 people in tow, but the Cherry Creek Arts Festival has maneuvered with considerable grace over the past three years pandemic as the coronavirus upgraded its usual operations.
The fest did what it had to in 2020, canceling its annual mega-show and sale of artist wares and channeling its energies into more-special activities, like putting together at home, art-making kits and distributing them for free to school-age kids around the region. The event may have been down, but it wasn’t out of the picture completely.
And in 2021, it took the risky step of bringing the fest back, but in a scaled-down version that required complicated logistical thinking from organizers and careful planning from visitors. The fest was moved from its quaint location on the streets of Cherry Creek North to a plain and fenced-off asphalt parking lot across the street. Guests had to wear masks and make timed reservations for their visits. The art was there, for the most part, but the spirit was surely squashed.
This year, if things go as planned, it will be more like the old days, with a large slate of artists returning to show off their paintings, sculptures, jewelry and ceramics, and — if the weather cooperates, of course — big crowds returning to what has been for three decades the biggest event on the region’s visual arts calendar. The three-day fair can do as much as $4 million in sales on a good year.
The good news: The free event is moving back to its usual spot among North Cherry Creek’s shops and restaurants and, after 2021’s shuffling, resuming its traditional dates on Independence Day weekend.
There is no advance registration. Folks can wander in and about without restrictions and linger as long as they like. There will be music, plenty of food and familiar attractions like the Creation Station, which offers hands-on activities for kids.
In all, 250 artists are slated to set up booths. “Thirty are from Colorado,” fest executive director Tara Brickell pointed out in an interview this week. “And 56 will be doing it for the first time ever.”
Among the popular local names to look out for: Denver’s Sarah Bowling, known for her colorful, pillow-shaped sculptures made out of concrete; ceramicist Kazu Oba, who creates elegant, functional objects like mugs and bowls from his Lafayette studio; and Dolan Geiman, the Englewood-based artist who recycles old magazines, wood and metal into objects resembling iconic Western icons, like big horn sheep and grizzly bears.
With the pandemic in retreat, there will be more opportunity for interaction between the artists and prospective customers, one of the fair’s true charms. As usual, the art comes in multiple formats — there are 13 categories ranging from fiber art to photography to printmaking (and many artists crossover within those groups) — and at many price points. There are deals to be had, and this event is always a good place for folks who want to up the quality of their art collection while keeping their spending within budget.
Plus, buyers can know their purchases fund Cherry Arts, the nonprofit that produces the fest and supports year-round arts education opportunities for more than 40,000 Colorado students each year, through things like in-school workshops and a mobile art gallery.
The fest has added a few new things for its 2022 edition. For the first time, the event will feature artists from the Reach program, which provides studio space and instruction to people grappling with homelessness, addiction issues and financial hardships. Reach is based out of the Redline Art Center, which will set up a booth near Second and Fillmore.
At the child-friendly Creation Station, the fest will offer “color field tactile painting” experiences, which use creative tools and techniques to provide art-making opportunities for low-vision and blind visitors. The project aims to increase awareness of disabilities and invite all kids to participate by wearing block-out sunglasses.
The fest is also hosting an evening concert on Saturday headlined by Tune-Yards, the critically acclaimed, art-pop band with five albums to its credit and which is known for injecting surprising, surreal twists and into its live performances. That concert costs $25 for general admission, $50 for VIP; tickets are available on the fest website.
But the strength of this year’s Cherry Creek Arts Festival comes down to what’s old, the crowds and the fresh air, the meandering of visitors, the endless lineup of tents with their colorful creations, and the return of a Fourth of July tradition. After so many decades, the draw of the event is now its nostalgia, really.
It’s been a slog, this pandemic, and the return of familiar things is plenty to get excited about. That, and some good shopping.
IF YOU GO
The Cherry Creek Arts Festival takes place 10 am to 8 pm July 1-2 and 10 am to 6 pm July 3. Location: Cherry Creek North. Info: cherrycreekartsfestival.org. It’s free.