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Oklahoma City Festival of Arts to make summer return; COVID-19 precautions still in place

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Arts Council Oklahoma City's annual Festival of the Arts at Bicentennial Park in Downtown Oklahoma City.

Following its 2020 cancellation, the Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts will make a comeback this summer, showcasing visual and performing arts with COVID-19 precautions.

While the festival typically takes place in the spring, Arts Council Oklahoma City officials moved it to June to allow changes for public safety. Last year, the festival was canceled entirely due to safety concerns amid the pandemic.

“Our city manager decided that it was best for the community to move (the festival) to June,” Seth Lewis, the festival’s director, said. “That gives the opportunity for more people to be vaccinated and make it a little safer for everyone.” 

This year, festival directors expanded the event grounds at the Bicentennial Park to include the east lawn of City Hall and Patience Latting Drive in downtown Oklahoma City. This will allow more room for social distancing. 

The annual festival is held in Bicentennial Park and features various showcases of different art mediums. It brings in 5,000 volunteers, 144 artists worldwide, and an average attendance of 100,000 people per day, according to the Oklahoma City Arts Council website. 

Guests can listen to live music, participate in art auctions and enjoy food from local vendors, among other festival events.

Each year, a committee of jurors works with the Oklahoma City Arts Council to carefully select festival artists and vendors. This process ensures that festival guests receive the highest-quality exposure to all art forms, educating attendees and immersing them in a full arts experience, Lewis said. 

“We want to let people educate themselves that there’s more than just visual arts — that ‘arts’ encompasses a lot,” Lewis said.

After receiving a loan from other city programs, original arts council board members planned the first festival in 1967, according to the festival website. These members hoped to showcase the work of deserving artists and provide a free outlet for public arts education. Each member played a personal role in the event, setting up tents, preparing food and even putting on a skit. 

Now, the Festival of the Arts has become one of the “largest, most successful and best-organized festivals in the country,” according to the council website.

Although the event will take place this year, guests can expect a different festival from years past. Social distancing and masking protocols will be enforced, and the culinary arts will not be showcased this summer.

“We got rid of the culinary arts, which was a tent with people gathering and all sharing samples of food. That’s just not feasible this year,” Lewis said. “Our food tents, where you would typically go in and get your meals, are now food trucks or trailers. Only the staff members that work with that organization will help out there.” 

While the event has moved to allow changes for public safety, the festival is a welcome celebration of the community’s strength in light of the challenges brought by the pandemic, Lewis said. 

“We restructured in-person programs to livestream musical performances, visual art demonstrations and art education video tutorials with downloadable lesson plans,” Alonna Dray, the communications director for the Oklahoma City Arts Council, said. “Communication through social media, the press, etc. was extremely important for us to share with community members how to access the arts from home.”  

After a challenging year, Lewis said council officials are thrilled to bring the Festival of the Arts back this summer. 

Festival of Arts assistant Laurena Sherrill said the festival is an important symbol of community for Oklahomans. She and Lewis said they are excited to bring community members together again. 

The Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts takes place from June 22-27 in downtown Oklahoma City. Event attendance is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the festival’s website. 

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