Summerfest: one-of-a-kind art celebration

Pondering where to spend the lazy summer days this July? Only one event this summer features an Iron Potter competition complete with blowtorches and a booth where you can glaze your own Raku pots and fire them in a blazing kiln. Throw in painting, sculpture, live music and great food, and you've got Kirkland Art Center's Summerfest. The star of this festival is visual artistry at its thrilling, dramatic best.

Summerfest, produced every year by Kirkland Arts Center, brings in approximately 50,000 people each summer. Not only is it the largest of the festivals in this area, but it is also the only event of this size and calibre that doesn't charge a gate fee. This year, for the first time, KAC has decided to encourage donations by posting boxes at strategic places throughout the festival.

All contributions are strictly on a voluntary basis; however, KAC is dedicated to ensuring that the festival is about art, not profits. "The level and calibre of the festival distinguishes KAC's Summerfest from other activities in the area," says Quinn Elliott, executive director. "As always, there will be a great many free or very low- cost, hands-on art events."

The festival features a dizzying array of community activities as well as very high quality art and crafts from functional art to high art. "We try to be, to some extent, all things to all people," says Elliott. "The point of the festival is to support the local and regional arts. We want to show how strong the arts community is here and to provide a market for the artists. We will be expanding the artists in action part of Summerfest this year, and encouraging people to make art as well as see it."

Summerfest is also an important fundraiser for KAC, which operates on a very slim budget. "We are busting at the seams with the building, and we need satellite space," says Elliott, who predicts that KAC will have to do some facilities campaigning and restoration in the near future.

"We have over 2,000 students a year now. It's a very creative place to do art." The three-story brick building was erected in 1891. It is a city landmark and also on the historic register. KAC, the oldest arts organization on the Eastside, has been in the building for 42 years.

Elliott points out that, in part, Summerfest fills a gap in visual art offerings on the Eastside. Local public school districts don't have a lot of visual art activities. Unless a school has an active PTA that provides outlets to visual art, local schools offer only about one hour per month as part of the arts curriculum. "We look at Summerfest as a way to get people to directly interact with art and see how fun it is," says Elliott.

The festival features 140 jury-selected artists featuring everything from jewelry, pottery and photography to furniture and wearable art. BCC will be hosting a cast-bronze workshop where, for a very low fee, participants can make their own piece to take home. Glass art enthusiasts can make their own fused-glass tiles, which will be fired in the kiln and then mailed to participants. There will be a youth-arts booth, and Kirkland Preschool will be on hand with activities for the younger children.

The Iron Potter competition is the brainchild of Jason Huff, artistic director at KAC, a diehard fan of the Food Channel's program "The Iron Chef." Competitors will have 15 - 30 minutes to plan their designs after the concept is revealed, and another hour to complete the project. Past competitions have included candelabras, flowerpots and gravy boats.

Summerfest is just one in a series of successful events recently hosted by KAC. "Well-Heeled," a whimsical, footwear-inspired gallery exhibit, attracted more than 1,200 people during its six-week run this past fall. "Gigantic," an exhibit of miniature ceramics juried by high-profile ceramic artist Patti Waraschina, had in excess of 400 submissions.

This event also enjoyed more than 1,200 attendees during its early spring showing. "The gallery is increasingly successful," says Elliott. "It plays a starring role in the King County Arts picture as the only non-profit gallery on the Eastside. It's one of only a handful of non-profits in all of King County."

KAC is a gem, according to Elliott, but it is perhaps perceived as somewhat of a diamond in the rough by the community. "There's lot of really good, interesting art coming out of KAC," asserts Elliott, and she stresses that it is not only a family or community gallery, but also a center for extremely talented and gifted artists. "It's mostly contemporary art. Some of it is perhaps a little challenging, but it's also accessible art. Increasingly this is a focus at KAC."

KAC is as much about creating art as it is about displaying it, however. "You can't get better teachers than who we have here," says Elliott. "KAC shares glass teachers with Pratt in Seattle. We share ceramics teachers with Seward and the community colleges in the area. We share instructors with the Seattle Academy of Fine Art." It's important to Elliott that the community recognizes the calibre of the instructors and artists associated with KAC.

Someone must be taking notice, because KAC's classes are filling up quickly. They are offering a variety of painting, drawing and sculpting classes for the summer quarter, along with glass bead making, ceramics, copper etching and mosaics.

There is a teen life drawing class that focuses on portfolio development for young adults who are interested in pursuing art school. KAC also holds summer art camps with classes in world art, art in nature, and, new this year, a drawing and painting class for kids aged 13-17 who are reasonably serious about art.

"There are lots of options in this area for young people interested in theater, music and writing, but not much in the way of visual arts," says Elliott. KAC is attempting to fill the gap in visual art classes for teens, who may not be interested in taking classes filled with adults. "Art was really important to me as a teen," says Elliott, "and I would like to share that. KAC brings people to Kirkland, creates an opportunity for people to explore new kinds of art, and encourages people to see art in a new light."

Summerfest will be held on July 10-11, from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Please see for more information. KAC welcomes volunteers. Please see the Web site for more information, as well as for information on summer classes and art camps.

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