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story.lead_photo.caption The 13th annual Puppets in the Park remains free to all as the festival transitions to online in response to covid-19. Raffles for The Art Experience T-shirts, mugs and totes will also be free, but as a nonprofit, the organization of course accepts donations to continue providing art therapy and instructional classes at no cost. (Courtesy Photo)

Arkansas' only puppetry festival moves online on Sunday for its 13th year. Puppets in the Park will use a blend of pre-recorded performances and livestreamed content to offer a day full of free, artistic fun.

"I really value the the potential of puppets to help people express themselves and come into their own and find their voice," shares Jo Ann Kaminsky, an artist and play therapist. Kaminsky and her artist husband Hank founded The Art Experience in the early 1990s as a resource for making art available to all but also harnessing the healing act of creating through art and play therapy.

"There are a lot of ways that you can develop a sense of community around giant puppets, but one of the wonderful things about the puppet festival is we're not there, necessarily, to heal anything. We're there for community and fun."

The festival, normally held outdoors, will be a slightly scaled back version of the annual affair. But, Kaminsky reveals, the virtual format did allow for some collaborative opportunities that may not have been an option in the past -- not to mention widening the potential audience to a global scale.

Iowa's Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre Company will perform during the festival. Also on the lineup is world-traveling puppeteers Stevens Puppets, who have been delighting audiences with hand-carved marionettes since the troupe's founding in 1933. The day will also include entertainment by Melvino the Clown, Tommy Terrific, Shaky Bugs and more, plus interactive activities, demonstrations and how-to's.

"We're stretching and learning," Kaminsky says of the pivot to the digital sphere. "I think all of the art therapists, art teachers, therapists, play therapists -- everybody who works with things that are an experience -- are working really hard to keep the experience alive and trying new ways to do it."

As The Art Experience staff continue to adjust to the changes wrought by the pandemic, they have maintained their free services with virtual art therapy groups and puppet-making classes through Zoom. In fact, the organization has recently expanded its programming to offer therapy groups specifically for veterans and for elders, in addition to their teen girls' group.

-- Jocelyn Murphy

[email protected]

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FAQ

Virtual Puppets In The Park

WHEN — Noon-5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE — artexp.org

COST — Free

INFO — artexp.org, facebook.com/TheArtExperienceInc

— Jocelyn [email protected]

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