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Commonwheel celebrates 29 years of arts festivals

Art demands to be encountered; it is never complete without an audience. And for some of our most imaginative local and national creators, finding an eager audience will get a lot easier when the Manitou Commonwheel Artists Coop presents its 29th annual Labor Day Art & Craft Festival, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, at Manitou Memorial Park.

The festival will feature 100 different artists presenting their work in one of 12 categories: fine art, furniture, distress, glass, jewelry, beadwork, photography, sculpture, wood, and a potpourri of other miscellaneous forms including face painting.

"This is not a normal arts and crafts event," claims event coordinator Marica Hefti, a Commonwheel artist since 1992. "There are no foam-rubber animals. We are accepting serious, world-class art," she says.

The event, which will also feature a dozen food booths as well as continual live music from local folk and jazz artists, is a chance for artists to display their art for public consumption and hopefully, attract the interest of local art-buyers.

In order to maintain the festival's prodigious standards, all artists must submit, in advance, slides of their work to be critiqued by a jury of seven professional local artists.

"The jury selects the most creative, interesting pieces, and then that artist is invited to rent a booth at the festival," says Hefti. She feels that by requiring artists to attend the event along with their work, the festival maintains its credibility as not only a showcase for authentic expression, but also as a vehicle for artistic dialogue.

Started in the early 1970s by "local free-spirits with a vision of living off of their art," Hefti claims the Commonwheel Artists Coop has managed to grow in stature while still embracing its founding principles. The name Commonwheel is derived from the word "commonwealth," which hints at the group's inclusive, artistic outlook.

"The festival is just a larger manifestation of the Coop's unique synergy," she says. "We inspire each other, and the art is able to flow."

With a gallery located at 102 Canon Ave., in the center of Manitou Springs, the group is able to showcase artwork by Coop members and local unaffiliated artists year-round, but Hefti believes the Labor Day festival provides the group with a chance to do even more.

"This is a chance to let the community know we care about art, and we appreciate the work of those bold enough to create it," she says.

To engage, rather than merely entertain the youth in attendance, there will be a Kids Art Activities Corner, which will allow aesthetically minded kiddies to express their creativity in several artistic mediums. And of course, what festival would be complete without face paint, lots of bubbles, and Jim Jackson, "the Clown of World Renown"?

"I think we have a very good arts community," says Hefti. "We just need more people to enjoy it locally."

-- Joe Kuzma

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