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BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

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BG24 Newscast
September 29, 2023

BSAF: Celebrating 30 years of art and community

Adam Crofts
Attendants of the Black Swamp Art Festival gather to listen to a live music performance on Sunday, Sept. 10.

The Black Swamp Arts Festival (BSAF) brings the community and art world together in downtown Bowling Green once again. 

The BSAF celebrated 30 years of being a staple in the town from Sept. 8 to Sept. 10. This year, the festival earned the Governor’s Award for the Arts for Community Development and Participation.

Festival Chair Todd Ahrens says he is proud to be one of hundreds of volunteers that make the BSAF possible. Unlike most other events of its caliber, Ahrens says, the festival is completely volunteer run, with 25 board members, 45 committee members and over 800 volunteers running events for the weekend. 

Ahrens says he is proud to have watched the nonprofit initiative work with the City of Bowling Green to evolve the BSAF into what it has become today. 

“The first year, it was a much smaller juried art show, much smaller music lineup and much smaller space, and over the years we’ve worked closely with the city of Bowling Green and other organizations to expand the footprint of the festival to what it is today,” Ahrens said. “We’ve had a really great relationship with the city.” 

Over the weekend, the festival hosted 112 art vendors and dozens of bands ranging over a diverse musical variety. And the best part, Ahrens says, is that the experience is free.

The vendors lined the streets, allowing festival goers to see and buy different forms of art including paintings, clothing, prints, woodworking and more. 

Different food trucks and stands, with things from ice cream to tamales to lobster mac and cheese, gave those in attendance plenty of opportunity to fuel up while they browse the downtown area. 

Music played from the family stage, different parts of the street and next to the beer area, where the main stage was set up for later musicians to perform all throughout the day and night. 

“One of the things that makes Black Swamp special, is because we are not only a visual arts fair, we also provide free music concerts. There are a lot of venues that put on musical acts of the caliber that we bring in, but oftentimes those are paid events,” Ahrens said. 

This year, the BSAF featured musicians that were grammy-winning, featured on late night television shows or recognized by the Rolling Stone magazine. 

Aside from the art and music, family activities like crafts, chalk, a bike race and a giant art display where attendees could add a popsicle stick to it were available for those who wanted to spend time with one another and immerse themselves in the art. 

Though the BSAF offers plenty to see and do, it has brought both community members and vendors together, from first timers to frequent visitors. 

Aaron Bivins, an impressionist painter and vendor at the festival, has been going to the BSAF for close to 10 years. 

“It’s a wonderful venue. It’s just a super, super, super festival and the people that attend are so gracious, so kind. The music, the artwork, the food, you got it all,” he said. 

While Bivins has been at the festival for over 10 years, Diane Kline, a painter who turned her images into gift items and wearables, spent her very first year at the festival.

“I had several other artists tell me about it and I’ve done shows in Ann Arbor and the Toledo Art Fair. I’ve enjoyed the community here and I’m very happy to be here. It’s great weather and great customers,” she said. 

Bowling Green resident Eneida Cruz has been attending the festival since its first year in the 1990s. Since then, she says it has become an annual favorite. 

“I’m always excited to come every year,” Cruz said.  “I love that I can experience so many different kinds of music in one place in a short period of time.” 

Since the beginning, Ahrens said, the festival has always been about bringing the community together to enjoy something special. 

“A group of downtown business owners combined with artists or people supporting the arts in the community came up with the idea of something to do to support the arts, community and businesses,” Ahrens said.

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