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Organizers are preparing galleries, music and new cultural exhibit for arts festival

February 26, 2019

At the upcoming 14th annual The Woodlands Waterway Arts Festival, scheduled for April 13 and 14, there seems to be something for everybody — including a new cultural immersion experience to debut this year.

“It’ll be a cultural exhibit about Mexico when you first walk in the main gate. There will be an art element, music, and artisans doing a demonstration,” said Kelly Batterson, who is the festival’s director for the second year in a row. “We’re creating a town center where you can sit and relax, like something you’d see in Mexico.”

The exhibit is called Spotlight on Mexico, and is the first of what Batterson said she hopes will be a recurring event with a different country every year.

“The community in The Woodlands is getting diverse and we wanted to reach out to a new audience that maybe hasn’t experienced our event, and we thought this would be a good start,” Batterson said.

Much of the festival, of course, is centered on the more than 200 artists and booths showcasing their artwork within 14 different categories ranging from jewelry to photography to sculptures.

Sally Richard is the festival’s artist management coordinator. She said that most of the 735 artists who wanted to show their work at the festival had phenomenal applications, but the jurors had to select which artists were invited based on the top scores in addition to ensuring there was variety across the categories.

“The quality of art is just so amazing. We get a lot of feedback from the artists, and they love coming and participating because of our community,” Richard said. “We have artists who want to come back every year, and that’s a good thing.”

Richard said although 20 percent of the artists are from Texas, they receive submissions from all around the country—and even a few international artists, too. Featured artist Nolan Prohaska, who creates artwork made out of glass, will also be at the festival with a double booth.

In their booths, artists are required to bring mostly original artwork, meaning not prints of their work.

“Our venue is such an intimate venue; you get a lot of personal interaction with the artists. To me, that adds value to the art you’re buying because you’ve met the artist and you’ve heard about their process and the story of how they started doing this,” Richard said.

In addition to the professional artists, student artists have a chance to submit their work through The Woodlands Arts Council’s Student Art Scholarship Competition. Batterson said she’s always amazed at the quality of artwork high school juniors and seniors submit.

“I was blown away last year. They’re so talented, and they’re remarkable in all the categories,” Batterson said.

Though the submission period has ended, winning student art is to be exhibited at the festival for attendees to view as well as prior to the festival in a pop-up booth in Market Street. Younger kids, on the other hand, may get the opportunity to purchase their first piece of artwork at the “Early Inspiration” gallery.

“It’s a mini-gallery with art that is created by teachers and students. We sell the art for $5, and it’s an opportunity for the kids to look and buy their first piece of art,” Batterson said.

There’s a chance to make art at the festival, too, with the Community Art Project. Each year, the arts council partners with a nonprofit; this year they chose Warriors in Art.

“It was started by Marine and Air Force veterans who wanted to use art as a tool to help people with their transition (back into society). They teach art so it can be an emotional connection but also create a community where art brings them together,” Batterson said.

People are encouraged to help create a project at the festival that is to be later displayed in the nonprofit’s permanent office.

For the adults, there is to be four stages with live music from Texas bands and entertainers, and an Art of Food section is to highlight local chefs with culinary demonstrations and tastings.

The VIP Art Dash Party will kick off the festival early on April 12 at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s Event Center. For $250, attendees can participate in a literal dash for artwork as they race others to secure their favorite piece of art.

“We have artists who donate their beautiful art, and it’s a really cool event. You end up with something high-quality, and it’s also a chance to mingle in an intimate setting with artists,” Batterson said. Tickets go on sale to the public for that event March 5.

All ticket sales, including admission to the event, go toward supporting The Woodlands Arts Council’s mission to educate youth about art and culture. Until the festival, though, Batterson said the organizers are finalizing the plans and hoping for a weekend filled with sunshine.

“We’re in activation mode. It’s full speed ahead right now, and we’re in full throttle for the next six weeks,” Batterson said.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com