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A myriad of local artists and hundreds of community members gathered in the street Saturday to celebrate art in multiple forms for the first Midtown Modern Arts Festival.
The free, family-friendly street festival was held on 20th Street between J and K streets and featured six hours of music, dance, comedy, visual and performing arts and creative, hands-on activities for kids. The festival was run largely in part to the multitude of volunteers willing to give their time to put the event together, and neither the attendees nor vendors were charged to attend.
“This is one way for use to give back to the community — bringing art organizations, artists and businesses together,” said Heather Philpott, producer of the Midtown Modern Arts Festival and communications coordinator for the Midtown Business Association.
Philpott said the festival started off as a project intended for launch in the summer until organizers decided to partner with Artober, a month-long celebration of Sacramento’s art scene in October to celebrate the National Arts and Humanities month, now to be an annual event.
“A lot of times, people don’t get to experience the performing arts because it’s expensive and it’s not always accessible to everyone,” she said. “We have quite a few of performing arts organizations in Midtown, but not enough venues.”
The event was sponsored by the Midtown Business Association, the MARRS (Midtown Art Retail Restaurant Scene) building, Heller Pacific and KlickNation and Philpott said the festival was to be a venue through which anybody interested could get a taste of art in its many forms, even those who have not had any prior experience.
Performing arts organizations were contacted initially for the event as well as other local art organizations. The festival also included live artistic demonstrations in sculpting, painting and drawing and various interactive art activities for children, including a craft corner and a musical instrument petting zoo, which allowed children the opportunity to try out many different classical instruments and hand drums.
“At the end of the day, we need to have something creative for (the children) to get their hands dirty and find their niche,” Philpott said.
Throughout the day, La Raza Galleria Posada, a nonprofit cultural center which offers Latino/Chicano and Native Arts workshops and other services, made over 100 sugar skulls — skull molds made of compacted sugar which are decorated with icing and food coloring in remembrance of a loved one — traditional tokens of the Mexican Celebration The Day of the Dead/Dia de Los Muertos.
Emily Ellis, mother and former teacher who attended the event, said it’s important to have activities for children in family events, especially to have arts activities at an arts festival.
“It’s important so they are occupied, so they get involved and they understand what it all means,” she said. “It helps make (art) tangible for them.”
Performing artists covered all corners of the medium from stand-up comedy to ballet, to jazz and modern dance in the streets.
The Sacramento Ballet led a “Thriller” flash mob, complete with zombie makeup and tutus, which Philpott said had been planned for a while. The group put out a video on YouTube to teach community members how to do the popular dance, which resulted in over 200 dancers joining in the streets.
The Harley White Jr. Orchestra, a locally-based Big Band reminiscent of the 1920s jazz-style through the 1950s, performed on one of the festival’s two stages, as well as local stand-up comedian Johnny Taylor, the Sacramento State Jazz Quartet, the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sacramento Ballet, among many others.
Created by Harley White Jr. in 1991, the band is influenced by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and Lee Scratch Perry, among others.
“We came to support the arts,” said Harley White Jr., 46, composer and bassist. “I’d like to see more collaborations between the art and jazz community.”
The Contemporary Dance Conservatory, a youth dance studio recently opened in May, was added to the festival at the last minute, said Jane Numazu, mother to one of the youth dancers. They still drew a crowd each time they took to dancing in the street.
The youth dancers said that they were very excited to be in the festival, some of whom had never performed in a public setting before, and welcomed the publicity for their new studio.
“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback with our dancing,” Allison Lian, 15, said. “We’ve been mainly improv-ing all day, and we’ve been asked to, next year, do performances, so that was really exciting for us.”
Lian described the modern dance as a “new type of dancing” but said the crowd embraced it positively.
“A lot of people do ballet and we have that strong technical training, but we kind of bring it into the 2000s,” said Bradley Palmer, 16. “We bring it into a fresh way of dancing. We take that ballet technique and use it to create a piece of work that hasn’t been seen for years.”
Lian has been dancing for three years and Palmer has been dancing for two years.
As for how the day went, both youths said they were just happy to be there and hope to see the festival back next year.
“I think it’s gone great this year, and if it could get bigger, then that’s all we could ask for,” Palmer said.
Feedback from the festival remained positive, with many attendees saying they wished it took up more than one block.
“I like the bands, but I like that they have the actual people that do the things like the dancers,” Roseville High School teacher Betsy Sanchez said. “I like when they actually have things that you can do - like the interactive stuff, and they have stuff for the kids, too. It’s nice.”
Her only critique — Bigger, because when it ended, I was a little disappointed. I thought there was going to be more,” she said.
Sanchez attended with her husband, who said the couple only came upon the festival by accident when they heard music and saw a crowd but were pleased with the experience.
“We wanted to indulge ourselves in some of the excitement,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people to expand their horizons.”
Mario Sanchez, who works for Union Pacific Co., added that Midtown needs more events similar to the festival and he hopes to see the festival continue for a second year.
“I like the crowd,” he said, “it’s nice and happy — and there’s good vibes. We’ll definitely be back next year.”
Philpott said organizers estimate there were about 500 or 600 attendees, though it could have been more, she added.
“We were really excited with the turnout,” she said. “It was a perfect amount of people for the space we had allocated.”
Philpott said that next year she would like to have the opera onstage as well as the Contemporary Dance Conservatory, which performed in the middle of the street since they were a late addition.
“We’d really like to get them on the stage next year, but it was almost awesome that they were on the street because it gave the street a different vibe,” she said.
Philpott said she would like to continue the festival running next year, though that is to be determined. For now, her reflections on the inaugural festival remain positive.
“It was just great to see all of the community arts organizations and businesses come together to put something on,” she said. “The volunteers were phenomenal. I couldn’t have done the event without them and without our technical team.”
Philpott said that the festival was successful because there was something for everyone to enjoy.
“It was definitely community-driven and a rewarding experience,” she added.