artStreet 2020 transformed—denis gullickson—august 2020
While not surprising in this Covid19 world, the Monday, July 20 announcement that ArtStreet 2020 would not occur hit home for the local arts and culture system. It was also completely understandable.
As every area creative type and supporter thereof knows, the event normally set for the end of August is widely viewed as a collective culmination and celebration of all this community's art, performance, cuisine and related pursuits while summer ebbs and another school year looms.
Overseen by Mosiac Arts, Inc., in recent years, the event has drawn national and, even, international attention and participation. ArtStreet 2020 was scheduled to run from Friday, August 28 through Sunday, August 30.
In making the announcement after “much thoughtful consideration,” Mosiac Arts Executive Director, Silvija Jensen, said the “incredibly tough decision” was made with “increasing cases of Covid19 and the unpredictability of what might happen in the weeks ahead.”
As of this writing, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website shows Wisconsin with the troubling distinction of ranking amongst the worst-hit states with over 40,000 cases. Within the state, Brown County ranks fourth of Wisconsin's 72 counties and is classified with a “High” Activity Rate.
That same day, Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich announced that he would be asking the Green Bay City Council to support a masking mandate for all indoor public spaces effective Monday, July 27. A vote taken by the city council the following evening affirmed the mandate 7-5.
Slow, Steady Progress, Then … Bam!
In recent years, the arts have begun to get their due in Ttitletown.
All of that came to a somewhat-screeching halt in mid-March when Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued a “Safer at Home” order — basically shutting down the state. While that order was overruled by the Wisconsin Supreme Court two months later, arts events and venues have remained basically shuttered.
Especially hard hit were high-profile entities. The Weidner Center laid off half of its full-time staff and PMI Entertainment Group laid off half its 60 full-time employees on July 1.
Summer in Green Bay has ticked along in strange fashion. Fourth of July fireworks, Farmers Markets, outdoor festivals, county fairs and summer sports leagues have all been canceled or curtailed.
A few embers have continued to flicker. Downtown Green Bay has brought viewers to artists' studios via video and local musicians, instructors and others have continued to use social media as a means for reaching out. Let Me Be Franks Productions returns to the Meyer Theater with “The Frankstones” July 31 through August 14 — best practices of social distancing and sanitation center stage.
Still, anything approaching a full-fledged fire appears unlikely for arts locally and nationally. NYC's Broadway will remain closed until a series of rolling opening dates in 2021 — a stretch of inactivity unrivaled during strikes, wars and 9/11.
A Brief History
ArtStreet has been an especially bright spot for Green Bay's arts and culture since its 1982 kickoff — the fruition of the dogged efforts of at least a dozen art activists beginning as far back as January 31, 1979 when the Northeast Wisconsin Arts Council (NEWAC) was incorporated by a group of “art and culture-loving individuals.”
By the spring of 1981, NEWAC's “Festival Committee” was tackling an “intentionally ambitious” agenda with the intention of “promoting the arts in the Green Bay area, but to also create a weekend-long festival that would bring the arts outdoors.”
By late-April, that group had focused on 9 “areas of concern” from finances to dates to site location. The latter zeroed in on a “closed-off” area along Washington Street with the Port Plaza Mall as a rainy-day fallback plan.
Next steps included rolling up sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty with city departments, local merchants and business and civic groups. Originally proposed for the third weekend in September, a few months in the group had weighed a lengthy list of pros and cons and decided on the fourth weekend in August.
Naming the festival was a lively, creative discussion and included everything from “Seven County Festival – a Non-Sporting Event” to “Slow Brown Fox Festival of the Arts.” A competition was held and “Arts Street” or “Arts Streets” was chosen in October 1981.
After meeting the myriad of essential “behind the scenes” challenges including approaching multiple funding sources, the first “ArtStreet” was held to great fanfare the following August and included 79 artists from northeast Wisconsin.
Over the years, the event would adapt to changing conditions and growing popularity.
Artist participation also continued to burgeon. While the number hovered under the century mark for several years, 100 artists participated in 2014 which grew to a 125 in 2015. In 2016, the event became a full-fledged three-day art event. Prior to that, Friday nights had been reserved for live music and food offerings and the juried art show was limited to Saturday and Sunday.
Eventually, the event would flood the downtown core with as many as 75,000 attendees and feature 200 artists from 20 states, Canada and England as well include various forms of performance art and events for kids.
Kendra Meinert's Press-Gazette article following last year's event led with, “How busy was Artstreet this year? So busy the art fair nearly ran out of beer and lemons.”
“Crowds were so robust this year,” reported Meinert, that “the two Artstreet-run booths selling beverages ran out of lemons for lemonade and nearly out of beer and soda after the second day.”
Mosaic Arts Executive Director Jensen said that supplies were replenished but that “After reviewing preliminary numbers, it was our best year ever. It was a combination of great artists, great vendors, great food and fabulous weather.”
Welcome to … The Artstreet Road Show 2020
Following what was likely ArtStreet's best year ever, it is especially disappointing that Mosaic Arts had to cancel this year's 39th installment.
“Our decision was tough, said Jensen, “but there was too much going against us to maintain Artstreet as the fun and safe festival that so many have grown to love.”
The first red flag was not getting a permit from the city after which “communication just dropped from them,” Jensen said. While Mosaic Arts understood there was pandemic happening, they could hardly create an event without information from the city's special events office.
Problem-solving mode in full swing, Mosaic reached out to the Village of Ashwaubenon and the owner of The Bar, said Jensen, “to see if we could move a smaller version of Artstreet there.” At that point it was all systems go for a significantly-reduced version of the event in The Bar parking lot. However, Jensen shared, “This was never announced to the general public because I just had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.”
On the other end of the equation came another problem. “We were losing our participating artists (many are in their 60s, 70s and 80s!) and Covid numbers seemed to be going up. Not know what to expect in a few weeks, we decided to cancel all-together. It just seemed like the safest thing to do. There were just way too many unknowns.”
Still, the show must go on. Especially an important show like ArtStreet.
“We are currently planning The ArtStreet 2020 Road Show,” said Jensen. “Essentially – pop up artists located throughout the Greater Green Bay area.”
To that end, Mosaic is encouraging artists that “juried into ArtStreet this year or any cultural street vendor from 2019 or demo artists that committed to this year to do their own booth from the comfort of their front yard or driveway or other venue on Saturday, August 29 from 10-6.”
“If artists don't feel comfortable exhibiting in their front yard.” Said Jensen, “we are looking for businesses, galleries or spaces where a handful could set up their booths to sell for that one day. So far, Swanstone Gardens is the largest “host” with 6 available spots.”
While certainly a scaled-back version of the event people have come to know, this means ArtStreet 2020 remains a go — albeit transformed from its original and ongoing design. There will be no food, music or other performance.
One might call it a “socially distanced” version of the event which typically fills the downtown core that now spreads it across town. Mosaic Arts is currently working on an online map of all locations and will make a print version available at some of the various artist's spots. There will also be yard signs to designate artist's spots. There will be no cost for artists to participate.
Jensen and her team continue to iron out the wrinkles that inevitably arise with an event significantly altered from the smooth operation ArtStreet has become over the years.
For more information or if you're a venue that can accommodate artists, the time to contact Mosaic Arts is now. You can reach them a mosaicartsinc.org/contact or by phone at (920) 435-5220.
In the closing remarks of her statement, Jensen added on behalf of Mosaic Arts, “Please stay safe, inspired, creative and kind.”