There is an obvious difference between the Ringling Brothers and Cirque Du Soleil, not that both don't have their place, audience, and fascinations. Bend's festival season seems to cover a similar spectrum, and while the community may have gotten used to the consistent presence of artisan carnies in town, the Art in the High Desert festival is channeling Cirque. This week, one hundred or so white tents will be stationed beside the river across from the Old Mill, pedaling unique art and high craft work ranging from complex jewelry, quirky found-object sculptures, luminous photography, and brightly glazed ceramics. The participating artists were selected through a unique jury process, with considerations made toward the creativity of the work, as well as the craftsmanship and vision of the pieces; requiring the level of artistry to be passionate, dedicated, and graceful.
"We created this as an intentionally small, intimate group of artists. The intent is to give the public a chance to interact with them, so they are seeing, learning, and buying," explains Fox, who is geared up and giddy for the event. He is adamant about how unique this festival is, from the obviously picturesque setting by the Deschutes to the intensive jurying process. Four hundred artists applied for approximately 100 spots, and the jury deliberated independently for three weeks before coming together to discuss the work as a panel. The non-profit business model for the festival has a goal of, not what sponsorships the event can acquire, but what connections the community can make through valuing beautiful, well-made creations. This is what the Art in the High Desert is molding as its reputation.
A festival setting has a curiosity and approachability that isn't often found in galleries. The artists are responsible for their booths. While this allows for greater interaction between the artwork, the creators, and the audience, for the artists it's quite the undertaking.
"Basically, from a retail sense, you are setting up and taking down a 100-square-foot store every weekend. It's hectic. During the season I spend more than half my time on the road," says Vicki Fish, a Bozeman, Mont.-based assemblage artist. Fish has a full docket of festivals this summer, ten in all, ranging from Iowa to the Pacific Northwest. She is excited to be coming to Bend for her first participation in the Art in the High Desert.
"It's a lot of work," she says, "but I wouldn't do it if I wasn't having fun."
There is a camaraderie that develops as the artists travel across the country showing thier work, which is also something that Fox and his co-planners value and want to highlight this weekend.
Vicki Fish agrees, "The best part is definately the community, I have friends that I only get to see at shows."
It isn't just the interaction between artists, however. With its free admission, bicycle corral, and buyer incentives such as gift certificates towards art, Art in the High Desert wants to make both the avid art collector and the first time buyer at ease browsing the booths and comfortable enough to ask the artists questions about their art and their process.
"Our jewelry is typically under glass, and the curious ones kind of hang back, and then they carefully lean over..." Fox imaginatively demonstrates, encouraging festival-goers not to be shy, these artists won't bite.
Art in the High Desert
Fri-Sat 10am - 6pm; Sun. 10am - 4pm
Aug. 28 - 30. Old Mill District. All ages. Free.