Past years of the Artosphere Arts+Nature Festival have had a theme. Water, space, even biking, laid a thematic foundation around which the Walton Arts Center's programming team built artistic offerings for the nearly month-long Northwest Arkansas festival. As Artosphere makes its return after a covid-induced hiatus, 2021 felt like the perfect opportunity to return to the basics, says Sallie Zazal: art, nature and sustainability.
"With that in mind, we started looking at the elements of our festival that we normally have, and they just fit so well during this time," explains Zazal, director of learning and engagement at WAC and Artosphere coordinator. "So much of what we do is outside [and] we do a lot of free events with Artosphere, typically. So those two things really worked well with the festival planning this year."
And so, Artosphere was back on!
Organizers knew pretty quickly, though, that a few elements were still going to have to look different, Zazal shares.
Two festival cornerstones -- the Artosphere Festival Orchestra, which contracts some 90 musicians from all over the world each year, and the intimate Chapel Music Series -- will not be part of the festival's 11th year. The silver lining, Zazal says, is that the loss of the AFO opened doors for more ways to work with local artists.
"We've developed some really great relationships with these local artists over the pandemic -- some that we had worked with before the pandemic and some that are new friends of ours," she says, recalling events like WAC blood drives and the new In The Atrium series that have offered performance opportunities to regional musicians. "We're really able to utilize those local artists in ways that would normally be filled by the AFO."
"We are trying to create an atmosphere where we can welcome back our artists, and welcome back our audiences in a space that is as safe as we can be, and still lets them have a really great art experience," adds Public Relations Director Jennifer Wilson.
Artosphere, Zazal and Wilson both point out, has also always been an event through which the WAC can engage everyone in the community. The festival's mix of paid and free performances broadens accessibility and, this year, the blend of indoor and outdoor offerings will do the same even more than in the past.
"We've been surveying patrons throughout this [whole pandemic], and there's always a group that's ready to come back as soon as we offer something," Wilson says. "Then there's another group that is like, 'We're totally waiting until we feel comfortable, until vaccines roll out, etc.' So you're trying to do this balance of meeting an immediate need that some people have, but also trying to get that other group comfortable with coming out."
Despite the changes, plenty of festival favorites and signature events return this year. Trail Mix, Off the Grid and the Artosphere Film Series all remain free; festival staple the Dover Quartet returns to Fayetteville for their first public performance since before the pandemic; and the addition of the interactive walking theater event "Art Heist" brings a fresh new piece to Artosphere.
"I do want to mention our photography contest," Zazal adds. "That's coming back this year with just an 'arts in nature' theme. We're looking for photography that finds a way to capture both of those things -- art within nature, and also how nature can be art."
Beginning May 3, an album of the photo submissions can be found on the WAC's Facebook page, and the public can vote for the People's Choice winner through May 7. The grand prize winner for the contest, as well as the People's Choice winner, will be announced May 10.
The full Artosphere Art+Nature Festival schedule can be found below, along with information about "Art Heist," on the next page.
Artosphere 2021 Schedule
Off the Grid
Local musicians will be perform at businesses within the Outdoor Recreation Area in downtown Fayetteville. Performances will be staggered so guests can attend them all. Those who complete a "passport" by attending each performance can turn it in at the end of the night to enter a drawing for "Art Heist" tickets.
"Normally, Off the Grid utilizes the orchestra members -- we'll set them up in various bars or restaurants and encourage people to dine and move from location to location enjoying the music," Zazal explains. "Well, this year, we've changed a little bit. We're working with three locations, kind of stretching up Block Avenue to the Town Center Plaza. It's very walkable.
"I think the sunset is at like 8 o'clock that night. So it should just be a nice night outside in the middle of May."
Performances are free and open to the public, but parents, be aware: With some performance taking place outside bars, the atmosphere may lean more toward that of a pub crawl.
• 7-8:30 p.m. -- Willi Carlisle, Maxine's Tap Room
• 7:30-9 p.m. -- Christian Serrano, The Vault
• 8-9:30 p.m. -- Route 358, The Experience Fayetteville Stage at the Fayetteville Town Center
Artosphere Film Series
The four films in the Artosphere Film Series are all family friendly, with a PG or G rating. Each of the films has a strong Earth or sustainability theme, Zazal shares, to fit into the wider Artosphere programming, and they are often very artistic, she adds. Showings will take place in Baum Walker Hall at the Walton Arts Center and are free with reservation.
• 2 p.m. -- "FernGully: The Last Rainforest"
• 7 p.m. -- "Boy and the World"
Artosphere Film Series
• 2 p.m. -- "Mia and the Migoo"
• 7 p.m. -- "Welcome to the Space Show"
Dover Quartet: Live from Walton Arts Center
• 7 p.m. -- Baum Walker Hall at the Walton Arts Center. $20
Artosphere's resident quartet and internationally lauded musicians Dover Quartet return to Fayetteville for one of their first public performances since before the pandemic. Annually, the Artosphere Festival Orchestra performs at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville once during the festival, and the concert is aired live on Fayetteville's NPR affiliate station, KUAF. In lieu of the AFO performance, KUAF will air Dover's Tuesday night show on 91.3FM.
"Strings Attached" screening
• 7 p.m. -- Walton Arts Center. Free with reservation
Director Bruce Boder helms a new documentary about the lives -- on and off stage -- of the four superb musicians who have become one of the world's most in-demand ensembles as the Dover Quartet. The screening is one of the documentary's first public showings, and some of the foursome's previous Artosphere visits can be seen in the film.
Jayme Stone's "Folklife"
• 7:30 p.m. -- Walton Arts Center. $32-$52
Another festival favorite, Juno Award-winning composer/banjoist/instigator Jayme Stone returns to Fayetteville following the release of 2020's "AWake" and his acclaimed 2017 album "Jayme Stone's Folklife."
• 5-7 p.m. -- Downtown Fayetteville and the Frisco Trail System. Free
Artosphere's crown jewel, Trail Mix returns to see art take to the trails. Live music and interactive activities will be found at various points along the trail in downtown Fayetteville by Bike Zoo and Jayme Stone, as well as local artists Papa Rap, Melody Pond, Block Street Hot Club, Smokey and the Mirror and more.
Artosphere Art+Nature Festival
WHEN — May 6-23
WHERE — The Walton Arts Center and various locations around Northwest Arkansas
COST — Many events free; some ticketed events
INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org