The art of selling perfection: Festival organizers say it’s time for Southwest Washington to shine

Vancouver will try something new in August: a free downtown festival designed to finally elevate our local arts scene into the national spotlight.

“A well-kept secret” isn’t Igor Schachman’s preferred description of Southwest Washington’s thriving music and arts scene. But that’s the takeaway from a pre-pandemic report on the regional arts economy written by Michael Kaiser, dean of the University of Maryland’s DeVos School of Arts Administration and a recognized “turnaround expert” on struggling arts organizations.

Schachman, executive director and principal clarinetist of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has worked hard to keep the orchestra alive and perform for its loyal fans during the coronavirus pandemic. The orchestra is even expanding its reach through socially distanced live concerts, which are streamed from concert halls and available to anyone, anywhere with internet access.

Schachman said it’s strategies like these that have allowed the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra to remain strong and successful during the pandemic. The upcoming festival was another recommendation from Caesar. The event is supported by the orchestra and many allies and aims to increase visibility and recognition throughout the local arts community.

“We want to bring art together and show the vitality of the art world,” Schachman said. “We want to establish and assert that the arts in Southwest Washington are worth talking about.”

The inaugural Vancouver American Arts and Music Festival will be held from August 4th to 6th and is a completely free festival of music, dance, visual arts and poetry held in and around Esther Short Park in downtown Vancouver. Putting the city on the national arts map:

  • Friday afternoon will begin with a welcome and reading by Arianne True, poet laureate of Washington. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, conducted by maestro Salvador Brotons, will host an evening concert in Esther Short Park, where dance and small group performances will add to the atmosphere. This concert will also feature the Grammy Award-winning classical crossover string trio Time for Three, which has performed popular songs such as The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”, Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and even “Guns N'” The song features some surprising string arrangements.

Later, on the outdoor lawn off Officer’s Row, a small group of orchestral musicians will accompany an outdoor screening of Buster Keaton’s silent comedy classic.

  • Saturday will feature dance performances; musicians and groups playing everything from jazz to hip-hop to Ukrainian folk-pop on small stages in and around Estershot Park; and a concert with “The Wire” at the Kitchens Theater ” in conversation with “The Walking Dead” TV star and orchestra ally Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (This is a ticketed event.) Saturday night’s free orchestral concert in the park is themed around American composers and will feature works by Samuel Barber, Charles Ive It begins with works by Charles Ives and contemporary black composer Adolphus Hailstork, and ends with works by George Gershwin. Visiting maestro Gerard Schwartz will conduct Saturday’s concert, and world-renowned violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will also appear.
  • Sunday mornings feature dancing and native flute and guitar performances. The final free orchestral concert at 3 p.m. will feature Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” and American classics, including Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” Schwartz will again conduct the orchestra, this time joined by renowned pianist Ollie Shaham.

Schachman said having world-class talent performing on a local stage, all for free, will make the Vancouver Music and Arts Festival a unique opportunity.

“If you don’t come and see what’s going on here, you’re missing out on something very special,” he said.

The time is just right

Encouraged by the Kaiser Report and its Vancouver sponsor, the Murdoch Charitable Trust, Schachman began envisioning an event several years ago that would draw broad attention to Southwest Washington’s arts community. He said when he pitched the idea to Vancouver government officials and the city’s Permanent Culture, Arts and Heritage Committee, everyone agreed.

“It hardly takes convincing. The committee told me it was accidental,” Schachman said.

That’s because the committee itself has been considering the same idea – a local, comprehensive and high-profile arts festival.

Ultimately, Schachman applied for and received a $600,000 grant from Murdoch to create a three-year arts festival downtown, hosted and presented by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. This year’s $200,000 is earmarked for orchestra musicians and guests – travel, rehearsals, storage, grand piano rentals, Esther Short Park stage expansion and sound personnel – as well as festival marketing. (Shakhman said $200,000, while large, won’t fully meet all of those needs, so more money will need to be raised.)

Schachman said the City of Vancouver provided financial and in-kind support, including exhibition space, fees for local artists, a smaller stage, security and waste management. The nonprofit Columbia Arts Network leads the way in visual arts events, including juried national and regional art exhibitions outside City Hall on Sixth Street across from the park and in Heritage Room “C” of the Washington Hilton Hotel in Vancouver.

The organizers decided to make the event completely free.

“Everyone should have access to art,” Schachman said. “Let’s immerse and celebrate the arts for three days without having to worry about buying a ticket.”

In addition to the city, Murdoch and the Columbia Arts Network, Schachman said thanks go to the many sponsors who make the free festival possible, including the Cooney Foundation, the Vancouver Washington Hilton, the AC Hotel by Marriott and others.

Schachman said he hopes this year’s inaugural Vancouver Music and Arts Festival will inspire many curious fans as well as the untapped local philanthropic base highlighted by the Caesars report. With help, future festivals could be bigger and better than this one, he said.

“This is the perfect time to bring all the arts together for the first time in the history of the region,” he said.

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