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Very Spectacular Arts Festival adjusting to life amid pandemic

Cynthia Puls and Rachael Puls teach a student about the cello during the 2019 Very Spectacular Arts Festival. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — Artsbridge will be presenting its 23rd annual Very Spectacular Arts Festival in a new format for 2021.

This year’s theme is “Dreams of Spring” and while the students will be creating their artwork at their own schools, the event will have an exhibit at Grand Central Mall from March 17-May 7.

Traditionally, Very Spectacular Arts Festival takes place at West Virginia University at Parkersburg and brings together nearly 500 special needs students from Wood, Wirt, Pleasants, Jackson, Doddridge, and Roane counties in West Virginia and Washington and Morgan counties in Ohio. The day is typically spent by students exploring multiple hands-on art forms.

“While students are unable to gather in groups, we have found a way to make the festival continue to happen in a meaningful, virtual format,” said Amanda Stevens, executive director of Artsbridge. “Art supplies are being delivered to participating schools, along with pre-recorded instructional videos. Students will be creating clay birds and dream catchers. They will also be provided with an interactive, instructional yoga video by Pam Santer,” she said.

In early March the projects will be collected and will be set up the mall art display. The teachers at participating schools will be submitting videos of students creating their artwork, singing karaoke, dancing, and doing yoga.

The Guild Builders from the Actors Guild of Parkersburg perform a scene from “Aladdin Jr.” during the 2019 Very Spectacular Arts Festival. (Photo Provided)

“We are creating a video presentation with help from the WVU-P multi-media students to play at the mall along with the artwork display,” Stevens said.

The video presentation will also be on each school’s website or social media page and of course, on the Artsbridge Facebook, website, and YouTube channel. Students will get their projects back after the art exhibit.

“While we do hope the festival can return to its in-person format next year, we are hoping to incorporate the most fun and successful strategies of both formats moving forward,” she said.

Each year the VSA festival has a theme and includes lunchtime entertainment and costumed characters that correspond with the theme. In 2019, the event had a hero theme and several local law enforcement officers and firefighters attended in their uniforms.

“We know that our VSA students will miss trying on costumes, playing instruments, and singing karaoke together, we are happy that they are still creating art projects and singing and dancing in their classrooms until we can be together again,” Stevens said.

The Very Spectacular Arts Festival committee meets throughout the year to continue planning and improving for the next event. The festival and all of its activities are organized by Artsbridge and hundreds of community volunteers. The event committee chairs are Diane McDonald and Stevens.

The event funding partners include: The PM Company with the Spirit of Giving grant, WVU-P, the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History and the National Endowment for the Arts with approval from the WV Commission on the Arts, Ohio Arts Council, AMBUCS, the Bernard McDonough Foundation, and Artsbridge.

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