Organizers encourage sustainability at Arts Fest

BY KATIE HEINE | JUNE 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Gary Port took a chance Sunday. But that’s not to say he wasn’t prepared for the worst.

The 62-year-old traveled the roughly 30 miles from Lisbon, Iowa, to Iowa City on Sunday to attend the 2011 Iowa Arts Festival, which wrapped up Sunday with hundreds taking in the festivities. And though Port packed his rain gear, he was pleased he didn’t need to use it.

“There’s always a 50 percent chance it’s going to rain for these kind of things,” he said. “But I took that chance and enjoyed it.”

Exotic foods, crafty creations, and live tunes are a few of the standards locals look forward to as the downtown transforms itself into blocks of tents and stages, and herds of people roam during the first event organized by the Summer of the Arts. Despite the sweltering heat, more than 125 local and regional artists displayed their unique and intricate products, and a dozen performers entertained crowds throughout the day and evening.

New to this year’s festival was an effort to go “green.” Eco-education booths allowed people to learn how to reduce their environmental impact, and a free and secure bike valet was implemented to encourage less driving, said Lisa Barnes, the Summer of the Arts executive director.

Eco-stations were also implemented this year after receiving a $2,500 grant from Rockwell-Collins to purchase containers in order to sort waste. A volunteer was available at each station to help people determine whether their waste could be recycled, composted, or relegated to trash.

“It’s catching on,” said Mary Crooks, a Backyard Abundance board member whose tent was positioned near an eco-station. “People are realizing there are important things they can do to help.”

This was the first year Backyard Abundance — a local organization dedicated to practical gardening techniques — had a booth at the festival, and Crooks said the group received positive feedback.

According to the festival’s website, the event started in 1987.

“Iowa City has an environment that’s just right for arts and culture,” she said. “The people here are well-educated and have a strong appreciation and support for the arts.”

Though the festival committee didn’t have enough volunteers to have an official count of attendees, Barnes around 30,000 to 35,000 people passed through.

More than 20 food vendors lined on the west end of Iowa Avenue, known as Culinary Row, and provided crowds with a bite to eat.

And while cuisine ranged from Mexican to Indian and Italian to Greek, one of the most popular treats was a mug. Passersby who purchased mugs for $10 or $15 from Wild Bill’s Olde Fashion Soda received free refills of such vintage sodas as Gatling Gun Grape, and Outlaw Orange for the entire day.

The 2011 festival was the fourth year the soda shop appeared in Iowa City, said Kris Werner, Wild Bill’s owner.

Werner, 47, is originally from Iowa, said sales get “bigger and better” each year.

“The people like the product,” he said. “It makes it pretty easy for me to want to come back.”

Sydney Mason — who attended the Arts Fest for the first time June 4 — said she was “shocked” by how many people were roaming through downtown.

“I’ve never seen so many families downtown before,” the UI anthropology student said.

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