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ArtFest 2006 Kicks Off

Arlington artists gather to show work and teach community.

Curious about faux finishing or silk-screening? Never heard of Yupo? Just an admirer of great art? No matter your taste or ability, the 2006 ArtFest has something for everyone.

"THERE'S A LOT of talent in Arlington," says Beth Hudgins, co-president of the Arlington Artists Alliance. Residents who doubt so will be pleasantly surprised by the activities going on at Fort C.F Smith this week. Oil and acrylic painting, photography, woodturning and ceramics, all by Arlington residents, will be showcased from March 31 to April 7, and workshops will be held for the aspiring artists of the county.

This year is the third for ArtFest, but the fourth of the Alliance's partnership with Fort C.F. Smith. After the fort opened to the public in April 2002, some Alliance members displayed art there. After an impressive turnout, they were invited back the following year, and ArtFest was born.

"Now people are thinking about Fort C.F. Smith as a place for art," says Jane McElvany Coonce, co-president of the Alliance. With a turn-of-the-century farmhouse and walking trails, Hudgins calls the former Civil War fort a "hidden jewel" of Arlington.

Not only is ArtFest a chance for local artists to display their work, it's an opportunity for residents to see what's happening culturally in their own town. "We want people to be turned on to art," says Coonce.

The Alliance came to be eight years ago when a small group of Arlington artists decided they should be showcasing their work collectively. Many had previously been involved in the Alexandria Art League or the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, and they asked, "Why should we go to Alexandria?" Starting with just 10 members, the group now has about 80. It is open to all Arlington residents. Some are novices looking for guidance from the more experienced members, and some are seasoned art teachers in the community. "We've got a whole range of talent," says Hudgins.

As an alliance, the artists depend on each other to organize events and promote each other's work. "We have no funding, so it's an all-volunteer group," says Linda Maldonado, secretary and five-year member of the Alliance. "We try to get as many members involved as possible." The members participate in setting up the show, sending out invitations, organizing the reception, and manning the sales table.

AS A FLEDGLING group, one of their first successes was convincing the owner of an empty storefront in Lee Height's Shopping Center to let them display artwork. "Within three months, it had rented," says Coonce. "So we did it again, and sure enough, the next storefront rented." According to Maldonado, the store that is now Cassatt's Cafe, owned by Art Hauptman, still keeps art from the Alliance members on display.

This year, about 30 artists will be displaying their work. "All of the pieces in the show are for sale," says Hudgins, "but they're not all thousand-dollar paintings." Many are three-dimensional pieces of pottery or woodturning, and there will be "mini-paintings" as well.

One of the main purposes of the Alliance is to mentor upcoming artists. Coonce is currently working with a senior at Wakefield High School. "I'm helping him put together a show, and get his stuff matted and framed," she says. "We're about promoting all art and artists in Arlington." She says there are many novice painters who will have art on display next week.

The week kicks of with a reception on Friday, March 31. "We'll have refreshments and people can meet the artists," Hudgins says. The week to follow includes musical entertainment, workshops, and the ongoing art show and sale, which will be held in the historic Hendry House at Fort C.F. Smith.

"Each day there will be a different activity," says Coonce, who will be leading a Trompe L'oeil (meaning "fool the eye," a faux finishing technique) workshop on Tuesday, April 4. All events except two workshops are free. Wednesday's Pour and Paint and the Painting on Yupo (synthetic paper) workshop on Thursday are $25. The workshops, held Tuesday through Friday, all require reservations.

Weekend entertainment includes a New Orleans One Man Band, the band Compass Rose, and the Star Dust Dance Band. Hudgins says the event has "gotten a good turnout in the past," especially at the opening reception and over the weekend. "Every year we get more people," she says. The Alliance members are looking forward to another good turnout. As Maldonado says, "We're really starting to feel like a fixture of the community."