Arts Council Summer events are back in-person

The arts are a big part of Kalamazoo, and by making a reappearance Downtown, these events are making it feel like Kalamazoo has finally begun coming out on the other side of this pandemic.

Image courtesy of the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

After months of isolation, virtual events and socialization through computer screens, Kalamazoo community is beginning to look more like a community again. The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo is one nonprofit that is shifting gears towards post-pandemic life, by hosting their summer events back in-person. Art Hop, Art on the Mall, and Concerts in the Park will be held in-person in Downtown Kalamazoo this summer. 


After months of virtual programming, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo is bringing their events back into Downtown. Kristen Chesak, Executive Director of the Arts Council, says these events will look the same as they did before, with a few adjustments. 


Concerts in the Park will bring eight free concerts into Bronson Park on Sunday’s at 4 p.m. These events are part of the Summertime Live Concert Series, which will bring 44 concerts total to seven different venues around Kalamazoo. 


“It's actually kind of cool because the first year we did this back in 2018 I think we had maybe 32 concerts and four venues,” Chesak said, “and now we are up to seven venues even post-pandemic.”


Chesak says that Concerts in the Park will have sanitizing stations ready for patrons. Masks will also be available, even though there is no longer a mask mandate in outdoors areas for vaccinated people. 


Chesak is glad that Concerts in the Park is giving performers a chance to be in front of a live audience, something they couldn’t do for the past 18 months. 


“The hardest hit artists have really been the performing artists within the community, because they didn’t have a lot of other options,” Chesak said.


Concerts in the Park will include local and regional groups, like Cabildo, an alternative Latin rock collective, and Shayna Steele, a jazz gospel singer, as well as local partnerships with the KSO and Farmers Alley Theatre. 


Cabildo will be the first performer to kick off this festival on Sunday, June 6 at 4 p.m. Click here to view the full Summertime Live schedule


Art on the Mall is back after its 2020 hiatus, and will be held this year on June 4 & 5. This event has been taking place in the Kalamazoo Community for 35 years. 


“It's a regional festival of artists from all over the world,” Chesak said. 


Art on the Mall is a two-day outdoor arts festival with an estimated 35 artists covering mediums from watercolors to glass blowing, and live music performances from Yolonda Lavender, Kanola Band, Megan Dooley, DJ Dan Steely, Celeste Allison Trio, and more. 


Some artists come all the way from Arizona and California to participate in this event, and some have been participating since Art on the Mall began.


During a typical year, Art on the Mall has around 60 booths. This year the event will have nearly half that, to encourage less crowding. Chesak says that around 35,000 people have attended the event in past years, but is expecting half of that number this year. Art on the Mall is taking place during Downtown Kalamazoo Partnerships JumpstART Weekend. 


Though Art on the Mall is outside, mask mandates will be decided per booth. If an artist prefers that patrons have masks at their booth, they can require that they be worn. Masks and sanitizing stations will be available at the event.


Art Hop is a local favorite, taking place from 6-8 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. When the pandemic hit, Art Hops were held virtually on the Art Council’s website and Facebook page. In April, they made the transition to holding Art Hop outside in tents along the mall. In July, Art Hop should be held in Downtown businesses again, like it was prior to the pandemic. 


“Art hop is really meant to bridge that gap between business and artist,” Chesak said. “This means traffic for business, exposure for artists, and community building all around.” 


Art Hop is going to look a little different from here on out, since their usual brochures are being replaced by the Art Hop App


The primary purpose of the App, like the brochures, is to find which artists are located at each of the different stops. The App will help you get to your desired destination, and will connect you with more information about the artist.


“The idea is, in the effort to be sustainable, to not print something that you use for 20 minutes and then throw away,” Chesak said.


Some artists that will be featured in upcoming Art Hops include Emily Carr, Erica Bradshaw, James Estrada, and Lisa Green. 


As the arts begin to come out on the other side of this pandemic, Chesak says there are plenty of things she is happy to leave behind, like the notion of a completely virtual Art Hop. There are also many lessons which we must keep with us on the other side of this, Chesak says, like the outpouring of activism art that we saw in response to George Floyd’s death. 


“There are a lot of voices that weren't acknowledged before now,” Chesak said. “Not acknowledging that we have quite a breadth and a depth of artists in our community, from all walks of life.”


It is important that the art communities continue to emphasize the value of their Black and Brown artists, Chesak said. This is not something that can be forgotten once things go ‘back to normal.’ 


“When we start to say, ‘I can’t wait to get back to normal,’ if we ignore what transpired last summer, with the murals and with the protests, and if we ignore how other voices in our community, especially voices of color, have come to the forefront, then we are doing our community a disservice,” Chesak said. 


Creative expression has always been a place where people go to connect to their community, and to heal, said Chesak. Activism art created last year, is just one example of this. Chesak is happy to get back to in-person art events because these experiences build community in a way that just can’t be accomplished online. 


“Being able to share your work, and being able to ask and answer questions about your work, those types of events create dialogue,” Chesak said.


Art does not have the same effect while being viewed while scrolling through artwork online.


Response to the Art Council’s return to in-person has been mixed. While some are excited to have these opportunities available to them again, others are not ready to put themselves in a crowd so soon. 


“There is still healing to be done,” Chesak said, “and that can be done through the arts as well.”