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Organizers want new festival on Gulf Coast to go regional

arts-alive-logo_rgbOrganizers of ArtsAlive! 2014 are billing their March 22 multimedia event in Bay St. Louis as a new sort of arts festival in this festival-rich coastal region.

The daylong program will showcase a blend of art, music, food and literature throughout the historic downtown area, drawing artists and art lovers from all directions. Response to the buildup has been enthusiastic, said Cynthia Mahner, president of The Arts, Hancock County, which is producing ArtsAlive!.

“It’s amazing, all the response we have gotten from the business community, from artists, from just about everybody,” Mahner said.

The event opens at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. with a finale of the singer/songwriter contest at the Mockingbird Cafe from 6-8 p.m. The juried art exhibit will be upstairs at 200 North Beach restaurant and is open to the public. The literary show is based at Bay Books on Main Street. The student art show is in the Longfellow Civic Center. The theater tableau performances are in the Hancock County Courthouse. The singer/songwriter showcase is at Mockingbird Cafe and the culinary showcase is in Starfish Cafe.

More than 55 artists are participating and 20 business are hosting artists for the day. “So people see art and they see the businesses, too. We’re showcasing the whole downtown as well as all the great artists.” The Arts donated $500 and the remainder of the prize money was given by various businesses.

The Arts, Hancock County’s five-year plan for ArtsAlive! is to grow it into a regional event, drawing participants and visitors from across Mississippi and Louisiana. “We have artists from Hattiesburg, New Orleans and Ocean Springs so it’s Coastwide,” Mahner said. “And we’ve have artists lining up for next year.”

ArtsAlive! started as a self-guided studio tour in 2004. After it was derailed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it picked back up in 2007 but had lost momentum. “Participation by the artists and the community fell off so we decided to try something different,” said Mahner. “This being a festival area, we thought a street fair would be fun and would allow us to bring in different types of art. We are known as an arts community. Let’s pump that up some more.”

For many of the professional “emerging artists,” it’s the first time they’ve entered a juried show, Mahner said. Some artists who haven’t worked in a while have been inspired to get back into the studio for the event. And The Arts, which has 200 members, has signed up 18 new members plus a large number of membership renewals through the buzz ArtsAlive! is creating. “We feel like we are really encouraging creativity,” said Mahner.

Leaders of The Arts, Hancock County are mindful of the many art groups and events already active along the Coast and their long term goal, Mahner said, is “to reach across the region so our events don’t overlap and there’s always some arts event going on.”

The Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs and Arts in the Pass are two of the large, established annual arts events held nearby. “We want it to grow and grow and make this our huge arts event here,” Mahner said.



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