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June 1, 2020

5/15/2020 7:29:00 AM
Art Fest Online kicks off today 
Virtual arts festival will feature live performances, workshops, galleries
Stephanie Kuski
River News Feature Writer

While the internet has been a saving grace for many in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic-related social distancing requirements, some of us may be finding ourselves spending extra time just watching a screen. In an effort to remedy that, a local arts-focused festival has been designed to help artists' get their creative juices flowing.

Art Fest Online is a virtual arts festival spearheaded by Nate Sheppard of Nate Sheppard Media in collaboration with ArtStart and Nicolet College. It will run from Friday, May 15 to Sunday, May 24.

"Art Fest Online is designed to be a virtual festival that gets you off the couch and into creativity," Sheppard explained. "The idea is, rather than just providing a bunch of online entertainment (which we have plenty of right now), this is designed to get participants engaged in some kind of art form, hopefully a new kind of art form."

"Essentially, it's meant to be a starting place," he continued. "The resources, the excuse, the kick in the pants - if that's what you need - just to get out and away from your computer to actually create art, actually interact with the physical world and the people you're hunkered down with."

"We wanted to make sure this event is not just another sit-in-front-of-your-computer kind of thing," Sheppard said. "We're using the platform, we're using the medium of the internet. It's an incredible resource and tool, but we do not want you to stay in front of the computer; we're just using it to connect with you so that you can hopefully get out."

While one goal of the virtual festival is for participants to experiment with creating new forms of art, another important facet of this project is to provide income for artists who have lost revenue due to the pandemic.

Aided by funding from their sponsors, the idea is to generate income for those artists who are leading the workshops or submitting live performances.

"Even if nobody shows up to the festival, we feel good about the fact that we're providing that for artists who do make a living off this," Sheppard commented.

In addition, the festival is completely free for all interested in joining. Everyone and anyone is welcome to participate as much or as little as desired, and all forms of artwork are encouraged. The online platform is a space for creative inspiration, prompts and guidance from instructors, but participants have the freedom to choose what to join in on and what to skip.

There's much to look forward to in the week ahead, including various workshops, live streams, contests and galleries.

"There's a great variety," Sheppard said. "We're intentionally trying to hit multiple aspects of art creation and multiple levels of skills. The classes are designed to be very 101 - you show up, you have no prior knowledge."

Four workshops are scheduled for this weekend and participants interested in joining are encouraged to sign up online in advance, as space is limited for some.

On Saturday, May 16, Lisa Beth Robinson and Kristin Thiekling will lead an environmental art sculpture design class where participants will be encouraged to use found natural materials to create art. Andrew Voigt will lead a board game design class that same afternoon in which participants will learn about the creative process behind board game creation. Zeke Jarvis will conclude Saturday's workshops with a Choose-Your-Own-Story-Adventure (limited capacity), in which students will collaborate in producing a final story that will be featured at the festival's closing ceremony.

On Sunday, May 17, Ryan Winn will lead a flash comedy theatre workshop (limited capacity) where participants will write a play together and perform it via Zoom.

The final product will also be available for viewing at the festival's closing.

In this way, the workshops provide a platform with which to connect and be inspired to create art, then over the course of the week-long festival participants are encouraged to share their creations.

In addition to the workshops, participants can submit artwork of any kind to be displayed in the open gallery online, which will be on display for the duration of the festival. A community gallery will also be featured, in which all participants are given the same template and are asked to create some form of art within the given parameters, then each piece will become part of a larger collage of artwork.

Two contests with cash prizes will also be featured, in addition to a virtual escape room.

Online fest goers can also look forward to live streaming performances throughout the week, including local singer/songwriter Brett Winters featuring his first full-length album. In this sense, Sheppard said the virtual festival is meant to showcase art in all forms and at every level - professional, amateur or somewhere in-between.

"The idea is we're celebrating art at any point throughout the process," Sheppard said. "There's all these weird ideas about what we think art and creativity is. But the design of this festival is to say, that's absolutely not true."

"Really, the most creative people are those who just decide to create something, even if it's terrible," he continued. "I teach a filmmaking class and I tell my students that - make something! It will be terrible, and that's OK. You will never get better, you will never move in any direction, if you don't take that first step."

By that design, Sheppard said the biggest takeaway is that Art Fest Online is for everyone. All forms of art are encouraged and anyone interested in joining is welcome.

"If you want to cook something, that's creative; if you're into woodworking, quilting, crocheting, I don't care, it's creative," Sheppard said. "It doesn't have to be these forms we think of as being creative things, because I think... it cheapens our experience of celebrating art, creativity and culture."

"My desire is to celebrate art in any form and in any way," he continued. "No matter what it is, if you have something creative to contribute, do so."

Those interested in participating in Art Fest Online are encouraged to visit

Individuals interested in signing up for workshops or submitting artwork can find instructions on that website as well.

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