The bad news is there will be no Artsfest this year. The good news is that in its place will be the reimagined and reconfigured ArtsWalk, which will take place Saturday and Sunday at Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center.
“We just wanted to alter the name so that people got the message that it was Artsfest, but that we had worked on it and had gotten some social distancing work so it’s still all the best stuff like Artsfest,” said Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center director Stacey Hann-Ruff. “We just tweaked it here and there to keep everybody safer.”
The 27th annual celebration of the visual and performing arts will feature 75 artists spread out over 30 acres. There will also be 30 virtual artists.
“COVID is awful and has impacted all of our lives and taken all of the lives of so many, but what can we do to find some joy in the midst of all this and share that joy with our community,” Hann-Ruff said. “We need these outlets and the arts are uplifting and are transformative and exactly what we need in the middle of a crisis.”
One of those artists will be driftwood artist and jewelry maker Anja Zander.
“I’m really excited,” said the St. Leonard artist. “For me and all the other artists I think it’s really good for us that the show is happening because we really miss connecting with our customers.”
Zander, who immigrated from Germany in 2012, creates birds and distinctive lamps from driftwood she finds on the beach a few minutes from her home.
She also uses regular wood to make serving boards, cutting boards, whiskey glasses and bottle trays, candle holders and boxes.
There will also be demonstrations, food and beverage vendors and 35 musical performs spread out over five different locations.
“The minute COVID-19 hit we started talking about all our events and how they would impacted and we were thinking, ‘Should we cancel?’ and we did cancel quite a few,” Hann-Ruff said. “I guess I was just a little too optimistic because I just kept thinking, ‘Surely by September we’ll be able to figure out some way to present this event.’ And I think that’s how we all felt; let’s stay optimistic, let’s tweak it, let’s think it and hope for the best, and luckily we have a wonderful health department that really worked with us and helped us and gave us feedback.”
Hann-Ruff said the park’s large expanse was a key factor in scheduling the event.
“We have plenty of room so we’re spreading our even more than normal,” she said. “We’re using every corner of the garden."
She also added a few of the normally congested locations have been eliminated, as well as the main music tent and children’s tent.
But the pandemic still threw a wrench in the planning process as the event attracted only about half the artists it had in years’ past, and some volunteers as well.
“There is a little bit of disappointment, I have to admit,” Hann-Ruff said. “A lot of our artists are just not comfortable [attending] and we respect that so it’s hard not having some of our artists join us, especially the ones that have been coming for years. COVID just adds this whole layer of complication that requires a lot more policy.”
“Of course [I thought about not attending], I think everybody thinks about whether they should do it or not, because it’s a serious thing,” Zander said. "My income dropped significantly, and I think that is not only true for myself but for many other artists and also art institutions like our local galleries. Most of us struggle for our survival as businesses and are very grateful for all the support we get.”
Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center development director Pam Shilling said previous events such as Insectival — which she said was “extremely successful” — earlier this year has helped in the planning of ArtsWalk.
“We’ve had people at the park all summer so we’ve been searching this so people can have fun,” she said. “This year there’s no question [the pandemic has] hit everyone extremely hard. It’s a tough haul right now for all nonprofits and [we are] among them, so finding a safe way to bring everybody joy is important, but having people there to support us we really appreciate it.”
Tickets can be purchased online in 45-minute blocks to enter the park in order to control crowd size and allow for social distancing, though tickets may also be purchased at the gate.
Seating is limited, so bring chairs and blankets.
Social distancing guidelines will be in effect.
Admission is $10, free for members and ages 11 and under.
For more information, go to www.annmariegarden.org.