Celebrating 15 years of Black Swamp Fest

Shelby Schroeder and Shelby Schroeder

The scene is well under construction on Main Street today as the volunteers and local businesses prepare for a full weekend of artsy creativity.

The Black Swamp Arts Festival is in its fifteenth year of bringing the visual and performing arts together and will be attracting thousands of visitors to downtown Bowling Green for the next three nights.

Funded through the initiative of local businesses, private volunteers and Sky Bank, festivalgoers will be treated to an array of musical performances at five separate venues while perusing several dozen art booths with the works of both independent and group artists.

This year’s musical lineup brings to the table nearly something for everyone, with a variety of bands to showcase their talents. Artists range in tastes from jazz, blues, bluegrass, Latin, country, punk, to solo folk singer-songwritiers.

Kelly Wicks, owner of Grounds for Thought on S. Main Street and this year’s performing arts chair, said he and other organizers sifted through about 1,000 submissions from musical artists in addition to seeking out special talents.

One such talent is headlining band, The Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. The group, which was featured in an acclaimed PBS documentary by the same name, formed during the deadly chaos of civil war violence in the West African country. Their African-rooted reggae will be accompanied by several airings of the documentary in the Cla-Zel Theatre.

But The Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars are just one of several bands playing at the event. Wicks said the five performance areas include special stages for electronica fans and teens – aptly named the Peanut Butter and Rock stage – will be accented by local bars that will regularly feature bands on their indoor stages.

Not to be outdone, the vibrant visual arts community is co-headlining this arts celebration. Glass and metal-work, a variety of two-dimensional arts, crafts and art-inspired souvenirs will line Main Street, some to view, some for sale, and others with creators hoping to take home a prize.

More than 100 artists will be in attendance for the juried art show, with works competing for more than $6,000 worth of awards, said Wynn Perry, visual arts chair for the festival. Additionally, the Wood County Invitational Art Show will provide artists with booths to exhibit their art non-competitively. Much of the art, however, will be available for visitors and art enthusiasts to purchase.

In the spirit of family involvement, the visual arts portion of the festival will also provide activities for children and teenagers. Youngsters can view and participate in theater acts, face-painting, screen printing as well as a tie-dye creations area under the supervision of adult volunteers.

Perry said a must-do on the list of activities planned for the event is an inclusive art project for adults, called ‘Artists at Work’. Visitors are encouraged to drop by the Windmill Mural parking lot on S. Main Street to personalize a square panel that will later be assembled as a large-scale mural. The piece, Perry said, will ultimately be displayed for the public to enjoy in a local building to be determined.

The festival is above and beyond artists making money and gaining attention, Perry said, but for the community and region at large to appreciate the arts.

Editor’s Note: The exhibits and performances are all free. The musical lineup and list of events are available on the Black Swamp Arts Festival’s Web site at www.blackswamparts.com.