FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Though many of its events take place outside, the Walton Arts Center’s signature arts and nature festival was one of the coronavirus casualties last year. Artosphere entered its second decade (11th year) in 2020 and was set to revisit some “best of” and fan favorite elements from the first 10 years.
When the Fayetteville performing arts venue shuttered its doors in mid-March to mitigate the virus’ spread, programming staff optimistically thought operations would be back to normal by the festival’s planned late April start date. Travel restrictions for performers and the growing discouragement of smaller and smaller gatherings made even Artosphere too difficult to move forward with.
Along with the sunny, warmer days of spring 2021, the light at the end of the proverbial coronavirus tunnel continues to grow brighter as more and more events and arts opportunities make their happy return to Northwest Arkansas arts institutions. Artosphere is among them — returning for its official 11th year on May 6.
“We’ve been surveying patrons throughout this [whole pandemic], and there’s always a group that’s ready to come back as soon as we offer something,” Public Relations Director Jennifer Wilson says of the staff’s programming approach over the last year.
“Then there’s another group that is like, ‘We’re totally waiting until we feel comfortable, until vaccines roll out, etc.’ So you’re trying to do this balance of meeting an immediate need that some people have, but also trying to get that other group comfortable with coming out.”
Continuing to balance what is safest for the artists, staff and patrons means Artosphere will look a little different this year. The 2021 event is the perfect opportunity to lean into the “art in nature” side of the festival, Wilson shares.
Signature events like Trail Mix — where musicians and artists across genres and mediums perform at stops along the Razorback Regional Greenway — and Off the Grid — which sees chamber musicians move out of the concert hall into businesses throughout downtown Fayetteville for intimate and nontraditional performances — are back. Other cornerstones of the festival, the Chapel Music Series and the 90-member Artosphere Festival Orchestra, sadly, are not.
“The big thing about Artosphere that we always stress is, it’s a huge mix of free performances and paid performances. So it’s genuinely an opportunity for anyone to come out and enjoy art,” Wilson assures. In spite of the missing favorites, the art in nature theme offered the perfect foundation.
“And that’s one of the reasons that this was one of the things we wanted to return with immediately,” Wilson continues, “is because this is accessible to everyone. It’s throughout our community. And it’s really our way to step in right now and give back immediately to the community for the support they’ve shown us during this time.”
Merging traditions with new opportunities, festival staple the Dover Quartet will be able to return this year, and the foursome will premiere their new documentary, “Strings Attached,” with Artosphere audiences. The Artosphere Film Series and a few ticketed performances indoors will maintain safe social distancing practices as the WAC staff continues to monitor state regulations and guidelines, Wilson says. Plus, the Artosphere Festival Photography Contest returns to engage and celebrate Arkansas photographers.
And one more new exciting change announced with Artosphere’s lineup is the Arkansas debut of “Art Heist.” The interactive theater experience invites audience members to put their detective skills to the test in an outdoor walking theater piece about the world’s most famous unsolved art mystery. “Art Heist” is based on the true crime involving the theft of more than half a billion dollars in art that took place 30 years ago this year. There’s still a reward offered for whoever solves the case.
“I think it’s one of those things that’s just like welcoming back your friends that you haven’t seen,” Wilson says of looking forward to Artosphere, as well as the handful of performances the WAC has already hosted. “It’s one of those things that it really makes you appreciate the opportunities that we have, especially in Northwest Arkansas, to experience art and culture in a way that we do here. And I think people have really missed it.”