Boston Arts Festival
The Boston Arts Festival is an annual event designed to showcase the visual and performing arts in Boston. It is also called "ähts" — a good humored poke at the Boston accent. The festival is also used to promote Boston's Open Studios program.
The event brings over 50,000 visitors to Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, on Boston Harbor, where they can meet the artists and craftspeople who are there to share a wide variety of art and high-end craft work, including painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry and sculpture, and much more.
The title also refers to a similarly named event that existed during the 1950s and '60s. Tents housing displays of works of fine art snaked through the walkways of the Public Garden. Across the street on the Common, an outdoor stage featured a variety of performances—free to the public—ranging from classical and popular concerts to performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas by Martyn Green's company. The Festival drew hundreds of thousands of people, but in the mid-1960s organizers announced a year's "break" to reassess finances, and the earlier version of the Festival never returned.
Back in the 1950s, Boston artist, sculptor and photographer Ernst Halberstadt and his good friend Harold Plotkin (poet and businessman) started the original "Boston Arts Festival". It was an incredible success, so much so that politicians after several years had to get in on the action, with others wanting to be "somebody important", and Harold and Ernst simply bowed out. Ernst never was one to play politics and really detested giving galleries 40-50% of the price of a painting for just hanging it on a wall and selling it. That was why the whole thing started. He wanted a place where artists could sell their work and keep all or most of the money.
Revived in 2003 as a one-day event by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, the festival started with the mission of launching the Boston Open Studios and performing arts seasons. Under clear blue skies, the festival drew huge crowds to the newly re-designed Christopher Columbus Park on Boston’s Waterfront. Highlights of the event included lively performances by Boston Lyric Opera, performing Italian arias, La Pinata presenting folkloric dance, the Mayor’s Mural Crew offering interactive mural painting and watercolor exercises, and reports from some visual artists of record breaking sales.
2004 saw the festival being expanded to two days in the same venue, with highlight performances from Boston Ballet and Jazz Hip Hop Orchestra, and huge crowd attendance.
To celebrate Boston’s 375th Birthday, the 2005 event moved some of its performances to downtown and Faneuil Hall. The main venue remained Christopher Columbus Park. Again, Boston Ballet proved hugely popular alongside Chu Ling Dance and Haitian singer Gi Frants.
In 2006, the festival continued to benefit from fine weather and played host, for the first time, to Diablo Glass, who gave glass blowing demonstrations in the park.
Firmly established, the festival drew record crowds in 2007, when juried artists exhibited and sold their artwork in a specially built artists’ village. Opera Boston made their festival debut to great acclaim as did up-and-coming harpist Maeve Gilchrist on the new Garden Stage to complement the Waterfront Stage. Boston Pops Ensemble and the very popular Boston Gay Men’s Chorus also made their debuts.
Building on the success of 2007, the 2008 event expanded to become a three-day event. Visual artists were now able to exhibit and sell their work on Friday while special guests Blue Man Group and Buffalo Tom entertained audiences from the Waterfront Stage. Despite the wettest day in the festival’s short history, large crowds turned out as the festival opened to great energy.
The rest of the weekend brought better weather and a full entertainment program on two stages. An attendance record was set for the festival on Saturday with an unprecedented turnout and individual artists reported record sales. Boston Children’s Museum provided activities for children alongside the Mayor’s Mural Crew. The Garden Stage played host to Pan United and harpist Aine Minogue, amongst others, while on the Waterfront stage, the upcoming group Everyday Visuals shared billing with dance troupe OrigiNation, songwriter Bleu, and for the seventh year in a row, Boston Ballet.
Starting in 2016, The Boston Arts Festival is being run by Artists Crossing, an organization featuring Boston artists and promoting local art events. The Festival is back to its original weekend, the second one in September. The 2016 date is Saturday September 10, time 11 am to 7 pm; rain date is Sunday September 11.
The event will feature approximately 75 juried visual artists and between 7 and 10 local bands.