Everyone looks forward to Memorial Day weekend as the start of beach season in South County (or at least the official start of it, as no one bothers to tell the folks from Connecticut that the beaches are there in April, too), but let’s not overlook the start of the summer art season as well. Later in the summer we’ll get the 33rd Narragansett Art Festival (June 27-28) and the grand daddy of them all, the 53rd Wickford Art Festival (July 11-12). Early fall will bring the young ‘un of the bunch, the 3rd Wakefield Art Festival (October 3). But it all kicks off with the one that has truly taken a place of prominence on the local scene, now in its 18th year, Westerly’s Virtu Arts Festival.
Downtown Westerly’s beautiful Wilcox Park – which has quite a season of its own, what with the Chorus of Westerly’s Summer Pops and Colonial Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park – springs to life over Memorial Day weekend with over 150 artists and craftspeople selected to showcase their work. Add in a dash of the performing arts, some music, food and drink, of course (this is Rhode Island, after all), and heck, why not even some martial arts and you’ve got all the reasons you need to push that beach trip off to later in the day, after the crowds have gone home.
This year’s festival even includes a special addition: a “Kaleidoscope of Trees” exhibit created by way of “yarn-bombing,” which is either all the rage among Amish teenagers or a first of its kind in Rhode Island trend in art, in which colorful knit creations are strewn about artfully. In this case, over 30 volunteers will knit, crochet or otherwise spin yarns into creative adornments for 24 trees and three lampposts to create an eye-popping display.
The entertainment schedule includes classical pianist Sergei Novikov and Ecuadorian folk ensemble Yarina on both days. On Sunday there will be some sweet, sweet bagpipin’ from Christian Peterson. There’s also a double-dose of martial arts with Shield Martial Arts on Saturday and Kiefer’s Martial Arts on Sunday.
Not to forget the little artists-to-be, kids and families can wander over to the Creation Station tent, where they can get hands on with activities like decorating their own beach pails and hats or drawing in sidewalk chalk. There will also be face painting and balloons.
As much as we all love sun, fun and salt water on Memorial Day weekend, the arts are a pretty good addition to the repertoire – in this case spanning arts of the visual, performance, culinary and martial kind. Welcome to the season.
The Virtu Arts Festival
May 23 & May 24 10am-5pm
44 Broad Street, Westerly