Calling Arlington creatives: downtown art festival returns for spaced-out celebration

·4 min read

After more than a year since COVID concerns halted arts festivals and events, Arlington artist Tschaner Azubuike said she’s found people more eager to support local artists.

Azubuike, who sells her art through her business 31:13 Ecofriendly Accessories, had to change her business approach after the festivals she planned to attend were canceled. She interacted more with people on social media and found a new coworking space downtown in Create Arlington.

“I feel like people understand that small businesses went through a lot,” she said. “People are more readily supporting not only artists, but small businesses in general.”

Azubuike is one of dozens of artists who will sell their work Saturday as West Main Arts Festival returns to downtown. The event, scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. between the 200 and 300 blocks of West Main Street, will feature 78 art booths, eight food and beverage vendors and 30 bands performing on three stages. People can also contribute to an interactive chalk mural during the festival.

The festival is in its fifth year, but moved from its East Main Street location in order to space out to allow for social distancing, said Mark Tobias Joeckel, an organizer and owner of Create Arlington. This year’s festival will feature roughly the same amount of vendors, with a waiting list of vendors ready to set up shop.

“We know that artists are ready to get out. This is the first festival for 99% of them in over a year,” Joeckel said.

Azubuike said she will have a little of everything at her booth, from her own creations to other artists’ environmentally friendly works. She has attended a handful of festivals so far this year as outdoor gatherings restart, but the festival will be her first in Arlington. Azubuike said she’s excited to see the talent the city’s arts scene has to offer.

“I never correlated art with Arlington because we just had not really developed that culture yet,” she said. “I’m really, really excited to see this vibrant culture that’s being developed in the downtown Arlington area and just excited to be a part of it.”

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Creative coworking space

During the height of quarantine, Azubuike’s craft was taking up her home.

“I had paper everywhere,” she said with a laugh. “It was pretty excessive, and I was just about to lose my mind.”

For over a decade, Azubuike has rolled paper into beads to create vibrant, ornate jewelry pieces, using an art form that originated in Uganda. She discovered the art form while teaching at a retirement center. She crafted earrings for herself at first, having grown bored with jewelry at the mall. She started creating and selling custom pieces after women locally took interest in her work.

Three years later, Azubuike started using recycled paper to create canvas art and sculptures based off her feelings while working as a 911 dispatcher for the city. Domestic violence calls she took during her night shifts began weighing heavily on her, and her art became a medium to express her feelings.

“I wanted to be able to console those women, and I couldn’t,” Azubuike said.

As a full-time artist and businessowner, Azubuike has displayed her artwork in festivals around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, as well as the Dallas African American Museum of Art.

After connecting with Joeckel online, she became a member of Create Arlington, his coworking space at 306 W. Main St. Joeckel opened the space late last year, after he had to cancel an entire season of shows last spring as general manager of Arlington Music Hall.

People can rent day or monthly passes to use individual or shared work spaces for studying, building startups or working on art. Amenities include mail service, photo and livestreaming studios and outdoor work areas.

Azubuike, who described herself as an introvert, said renting space at Create Arlington was “the best thing that happened” to her.

“Now having the social aspect with other artists, I feel like I’m part of a small family,” she said.

The business allows Joeckel to make organizing the 5-year-old festival a part of his day job rather than an after-hours effort.

“What gives me great joy in my work is putting opportunities in place for our local creatives to build their business.,” Joeckel said.

The festival is free to attend, but Joeckel said supporting local artists and businessowners by purchasing their work is especially important after the pandemic put a damper on creatives.

“We started this festival for the sole purpose of having an event for Arlington-area artists to sell their products,” Joeckel said. “This really is even moreso important now that we’re coming off a year of the pandemic.”

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