Writer / Karen Lynn
This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Annual Arts on the Green, a Fine Arts and Crafts Show hosted by the Arts Association of Oldham County (AAOC). What started as a small outdoor art show with 15 artist’s booths back in 1999, has grown into an award-winning two-day Festival that includes more than 125 artist’s booths, live music, food, Wine & Beer vendors and children’s activities. It is estimated to bring more than 10,000 visitors to downtown La Grange, Kentucky on a beautiful, picturesque weekend in early June.
Arts on the Green was founded in 1999 by two AAOC Board Members, Donna Miller and Sandra Graves, both of whom are talented artists and had experience planning and executing an outdoor art show. Held on the Oldham County Historical Center grounds, a total of 15 artists set up booths on a cold, rainy day in April.
Eventually moved to the first weekend in June, the Arts on the Green show was also moved to its current location at the Oldham Courthouse Lawn. Surrounded by large, old trees, luscious thick grass and that beautiful stately-looking brick building, the existing sidewalks seemed to be a perfect fit for the walkways leading visitors past amazingly talented artists and craftspeople showcasing their work.
The Courthouse Gazebo served as the Festival “office”, where artists and volunteers checked in. It became the hub or heart of Arts on the Green. Artist Judy Weganest directed the show for a number of years, followed by Marion Gibson as Director. Gibson ambitiously brought on food vendors and onsite sponsors were added to 2nd Street. Arts on the Green has always been a fine arts juried show with AAOC Board Vice President Jim Cheski leading the charge to select and coordinate talented and artistic judges each year.
“We feel strongly about maintaining the quality of the show and our careful selection of judges makes the caliber of it a valuable asset to the creative community,” Cheski says.
The show continued to grow, with artist numbers rising and the front lawn almost at capacity. In 2010, current Director Mary Klausing was challenged by the AAOC Board to take the show to the next level as more of a Fine Arts and Crafts Festival. They wanted more community outreach and to grow their mission of “bringing the arts to Oldham County.”
Children’s activities have always been an important component of Arts on the Green. From finger painting on poster paper attached to large cardboard boxes, and an annual notecard contest, to a recycling project (coordinated by Elizabeth Kirkwood) last year encouraging children to “create something that made them feel good about themselves, family or community.”
“We always make the children’s art activities fun and creative,” Klausing says. “It’s surprising and refreshing how creative their artwork is in such a short amount of time.”
Several years ago, an “Emerging Artist booth” was formed, giving Oldham County High School students a way to showcase their artwork. Alvin MacWilliams, AAOC Board Advisor, works with Art Teachers to select the students that are chosen to display their works. The public has the difficult task of selecting the top winners.
Klausing also approached the Oldham County Historical Center to get more involved with the Festival. Under the direction of Nancy Theiss, the Colonial Trade Faire came into being. The history center grounds became a 1700’s Trade Faire. Vendors dressed in period costumes with trinkets and crafts appropriate for the era, adding yet another interesting and fun element to the festival setting.
Tim Curtis, Oldham County Parks and Recreation Director had a music program called “Woodsongs, Old Time Coffeehouse.” Curtis coordinated musicians to play once a month at the John Black Center, and with a little encouragement from Klausing, he and the musicians (that donate their time) agreed to play at the Arts on the Green Festival. They play both Saturday and Sunday each year.
The festival grew and grew. With the addition of more artists, food, beer & wine vendors, and onsite sponsors took over the Oldham County parking lot. A rest area and dining tent with music were added at the 2nd Street Gazebo.
“As a 501c3 non-profit, the Arts Association of Oldham County is proud to present such a beautiful, solid fine arts festival,” says Board of Directors President and artist Ann Stroth. “It’s great for the community and a wonderful part of our organization’s mission of ‘Bringing the Arts to Oldham County.’”
That mission also includes a large Fall art show (Oldham Arts on City Place), five competitive art shows annually in Gallery 104 (that is also home to 35 member artists), donation of annual scholarships, a partnership with Oldham County Singers and much more.
“We’ve come a long way in 22 years,” Stroth adds.
This year, Arts on the Green will host more than 125 artist booths with works in 10 artist mediums from paintings, pottery, jewelry, metal and wood, to consumables, craft art, fiber, photography and sculpture. In addition to corporate and business sponsors, there will be five retail sponsors, 10 food vendors, musicians and children’s activities at the Festival.
Klausing credits the hard work of countless volunteers, phenomenal artists that participate year after year, and, of course, the amazing support of the community for the spectacular growth of the Festival. She also points out that surrounding businesses show a great deal of support, and that even the local firefighters who join in the Festival each year on Saturday to collect for the Crusade for Children (with fire trucks and sirens blaring) just add to the festivity of the weekend.
So, while you’re taking a walk through the beautiful, quaint setting of the Oldham County Courthouse Lawn, viewing incredible works of art and crafts, enjoying great music and refreshments, traveling back in time a bit as you view artifacts and folks in 1700-period costumes at the Trade Faire portion of the Festival or encouraging your children to participate in kid’s activities, you might just feel the rich, deep history of beautiful downtown LaGrange. If you hear that unmistakable roaring sound of a train running right through the middle of downtown, just a block away, it may just be yet another reason to fall in love with the Arts on the Green Festival.