by NATHANIEL NELSON
The shore of Lake Winona will be filled with artists and budding creatives this weekend when the River Arts Alliance (RAA) hosts its 11th annual Family Art Day on Saturday. More than two dozen stations will be set up near the Jaycee Pavilion for hundreds of children, parents and individuals to get hands-on with projects of all shapes and sizes.
According to Vicki Englich, the board chair of RAA, Family Art Day can be considered the organization’s signature event. Many RAA members participate with their own activities, she explained, and the event has been growing since its inception to around 600 attendees last year.
“We want people to get involved and explore whether it’s visual arts or various other areas of the arts,” Englich said.
There are 25 separate stations for attendees to try their hands at various art forms planned for the day, with subjects ranging from African drumming, to pottery, to puzzle design. Englich explained that the artists always try to come up with interesting new activities for families to work with, using both traditional work and off-beat experiments.
“We try to really encourage people to get involved in whatever appeals to them, but also provide something that people won’t be able to get in school,” Englich said.
Robert Armstrong, a local puppeteer known as “Doctor Bob,” will be attending the event for the second year as a station lead, but he’s made a few changes since last time.
“Last year I was doing edible puppets, which was a lot of fun. We used marshmallows with food-grade paint markers, but a lot of the kids got pretty [hyper], sneaking away the food and eating it,” Armstrong explained, “So I decided to change it up.”
Armstrong’s work typically focuses on marionettes, which he uses for his touring stage shows. For Family Art Day, he explained that he’ll be using various craft supplies to teach children and their families about character development.
“I give them a bunch of materials, they make a little puppet that is their character, and then they do a little skit,” he explained.
The materials will range from wooden dowels, to clay, to fabric, but Armstrong noted that simplicity is important. With the amount of people who attend every year, he said hitting the point right away was crucial to get kids moving. “It’s got to be something they can just whip up,” he said.
Before being invited to be an artist at the event, Armstrong explained that he used to attend every year with his kids. “It’s a fun activity, to just go from booth to booth and participate. There’s always a variety of different things you can participate in. It’s hands-on, the kids get dirty and messy, and it’s a lot of fun and truly interactive,” he explained.
This year, he hopes to get more kids working on their puppets on their own time instead of just snacking on them afterward. “I‘m hoping that we get enough of them to bring home their puppets, add things to them, and then they can show it to me at the next thing that I’m doing, maybe make some puppet protégées,” Armstrong said.
According to Englich, the event was founded by Julia Crozier and the late Bernadette Mahfood after the completion of the Blue Heron project. Several artists painted 15 herons and sold them around town, Englich explained, which earned $45,000 for Winona’s Fine Arts Commission to dole out in grants. One of those grants was given back to RAA to put on Family Art Day.
“It was something Mahfood put a lot of energy and thought into. It’s our signature event, and we’re really proud of it,” Englich said. “It’s a very intense day, but well worth it.”
This year will also be the first where RAA will offer a free “art bus” to provide transportation to the event, in coordination with Winona Transit Service. The bus will pick up people from the East Recreation Center, the Winona Public Library and at the corner of Fifth and Pelzer streets between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Englich said adding the free bus will hopefully help a more diverse crowd attend the event, allowing more families the chance to make art together.
“It’s really nice to see people, whether they’re moms or dads or kids, to learn something new. We really want to engage people, especially people who think they can’t do this. You never know, you might find something you really get into and continue to work with,” Englich said.
“I think it’s a great thing that shows people that art does matter, and it’s fun, and you don’t have to be great to do it,” Armstrong added.
Family Art Day will take place on Saturday, September 1, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Jaycee Pavilion on East Lake Winona. The event is free to the public and will occur rain-or-shine. For more information, visit riverartsalliance.org.