Loring Park Art Festival prepares to open, artists share stories of adapting during the pandemic | KSTP.com

Loring Park Art Festival prepares to open, artists share stories of adapting during the pandemic

Rich Reeve
Created: July 30, 2021 10:59 PM

Loring Park is transforming into a tent-filled, outdoor art show this weekend.

"Thrilled, absolutely thrilled," said Megan Murrell, an artist from south Minneapolis. "It's not just showing my own work, earning a living again. It's connecting with people over my art, or art in general."

After a year-long hiatus, the Loring Park Art Festival is back, and the artists, busily setting up their booths, couldn't be happier.

"Seeing Loring Park here and seeing some of the other peers pop up again and seeing myself among them is like riding that wave again," photographer Josh Driver, from White Bear Lake, exclaimed. "It's been a really big resurgence."

Last year, for the first time in its 21-year history, the festival was canceled because of pandemic concerns.

"It was heartbreaking. We knew it was the right thing to do but it was hard," said Cindy Jacobson, the festival's assistant director. "We are very passionate about our inclusiveness and supplying artists with this venue."

But the Loring Park event wasn't alone.

Artists here say with last year's COVID concerns, art festivals across the country shut down.

That cut out a big revenue stream for artists, who had to think outside the box to keep the money coming in.

"I rented out a furnished room to a grad student, and that's working out fine, they're still there," noted Cherie Haney, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The arrangement turned out to be a blessing.

Haney says that same grad student helped her to set up an email blast and find e-commerce sites where she could sell her work.

It was an adjustment, she added, not going to festivals week after week and making face-to-face sales with customers. But there was a flip side.

"I could work longer on a piece and not have to hurry and get on the road on a Thursday to set up Friday to do a show all weekend," Haney said.

Driver considers himself lucky.

With his nonprofit job, he has a bit of a financial cushion so he can spend more time with his wife and baby daughter.

Driver is clearly pleased to be able to sell and display his specially-enlarged, mounted photographs, especially after last year, when his business dropped 75%.

"I was in a lot of the art fairs and there was a lot of momentum. Then, when COVID happened, it was all gone," he recalled. "I did two shows, so all that momentum was suddenly lost. It's like riding a wave that suddenly crashed."

Some artists displaying work here were supposed to take part in the Uptown Art Fair until it was canceled in June because of what organizers called "unanticipated challenges."

"It was heartbreaking for Uptown to cancel," Jacobson said. "That's a tough decision for them. This is the artists' living, how they make their living."

Murrell, who finished a vibrant floral painting shortly before 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with her, said she also had to make changes, adding commercial art to her portfolio.

"When the pandemic hit, I had to kind of pivot from that, change from doing my own personal work and just get into freelancing commercial work — stuff that pays the bills," she explained. "I've done some things for the University of Minnesota vet school, so, more technical scientific illustration to beer can labels for breweries."

Exhibitors are permitted to decide for themselves about how to handle safety issues, including how many people they want in their booths.

The festival is also providing masks for staffers who want them.

"We are outdoors and are concerned about the latest variant, of course," Jacobson said. "Hoping for the best. Everyone is being cautious."

Murrell said she believes, in the end, the festival will be a healing place after a difficult year.

"I think we can all argue that the arts are important, and this pandemic has shed a lot of light on that," she said. "Being able to just connect with people over things that inspire them and bring them joy. Connecting to art in some way, shape, or form, it's inherently healing."

The festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.

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