Looking ahead to the 2016 Occasion for the Arts

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com
"This is a festival weekend," said Occasion for the Arts president Stuart Honenberger

The Williamsburg community knows An Occasion for the Arts, the local arts festival with a nearly 50-year history, and an event synonymous with the start of October.

But with additions planned for this year's festival, organizers endeavor to continue turning a local gem into something more.

"Expanding the event was a way to draw a broader group of people that might be interested, as well as people from farther distances, to come and experience not just one thing, but a whole host of exciting art-focused events," said Stuart Honenberger, president of the organization.

This year, as always, 145 visual artists from across the country occupy the heart of the festival, crowding North Boundary and Duke of Gloucester Streets on Saturday and Sunday with booths of art. Close to 30 performers will take to two stages.

But for the first time, a Friday night music mini-festival kicks the weekend off, and a Sunday afternoon culinary celebration wraps the festival up. Other additions include an art exhibition in partnership with the College of William and Mary and an expanded youth art element.

"This show, if you really look back 15 years ago, was a Sunday afternoon sort of stroll, look-at-art type show, which is great for Williamsburg residents, but didn't really create a weekend worthy of travel," Honenberger said. "What we really endeavored to do was to create a weekend that could highlight all that Williamsburg has to offer."

"Occasion for the Arts is more than a Sunday afternoon stroll," Honenberger said. "This is a festival weekend."

Last year, due to Hurricane Joaquin, An Occasion for the Arts experienced only its second cancellation since the festival was founded in 1969. There was disappointment, of course, as well as a $1,500 loss.

But the changes weren't reactionary, Honenberger said, nor did the growth begin this year. For one, An Occasion for the Arts expanded from one to two days in 2010.

"It's been an evolution over the years, and the event has changed over the years," said Sally Stiles, Occasion's public relations director. "At this point, we're in a position to make it … more known as a very strong regional event."

Expanding for the first time to three days, the festival begins Friday night with a "Kick-off Party" from 5-10 p.m., presented in partnership with CultureFix. The Dharma Initiative, Poisoned Dwarf and Rumbleseat Revival will perform at the Courtyard Stage, under a 6,000-square-foot tent in the parking lot behind Blue Talon Bistro.

Honenberger said a $15 ticket includes admission to the concert and a drink ticket. Attendees will have chances to interact with some of the visiting artists, as well as create their own art to be combined into a community mural.

From 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Occasion introduces "The Art of Taste," with a focus this year on craft beverages. For $25, attendees can sample from two breweries, two cideries, two meaderies, a winery and five distilleries in the Courtyard Stage area.

Honenberger hopes, if the event continues, that the culinary theme will change annually.

"There's an art element to food and to consumption, and we want to highlight that as part of the weekend," he said.

Also for the first time, art will spill across the street to William and Mary's Wren Lawn, Honenberger said. The college art show will highlight art from faculty and senior capstone students.

For Stiles, Occasion's youth art component is one of the most important parts of the festival, and this year, it expands to include more interactive activities, more displayed art from additional schools.

Occasion's youth art is sponsored by Sentara, and Honenberger noted increased sponsorship for the 2016 festival. In years past, he said artists' booth fees composed about 70 percent of Occasion's revenue stream. This year, it's closer to 50 percent.

Sponsorships compose about $24,000 of the nearly $125,000 budget for 2016. Other sources include individual donations, $10,500 from the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission and $11,000 for marketing from the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance.

The City of Williamsburg contributed $17,000, earmarked for a logistics and development consultants. As Occasion is an all-volunteer endeavor, Honenberger said the idea was "just to be able to engage consultants to get us over the hump in terms of sponsorships and getting some events going."

"It seems to me that Occasion for the Arts is becoming a really well-rounded festival that's going to have more appeal for out-of-town visitors," said Bob Harris, the chamber's senior vice president of tourism. Harris also serves on Occasion's board.

At its core, Stiles said, the festival remains unchanged.

"Having an exceptionally fine group of artists come to Williamsburg and exhibit their work," Stiles said, "that is the essential part of the show, and that will never change."

"Why not take the core of this and move forward?" she said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

For more information

Occasion for the Arts is scheduled for Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

Visit the Occasion for the Arts website at aofta.org.

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