Where were you on August 26, 2015? I was in Orange City, Iowa attending Arts on Central. Not sure what to expect, I hoped it would be a fun Wednesday night downtown.
What did I experience? Sensory overload, so much to take in! People arriving, trickling in and then: folks of all ages everywhere. A band of middle aged rock ‘n rollers set up on the south end of Central Avenue. On the north end, two blocks over, the street is anchored with a water spray station to cool visitors off. In Windmill Park a little girl is creating giant bubbles next to lush, colorful flowerbeds. It’s a joyful atmosphere of bumping into friends and chatting on the sidewalk.
There was so much going on that I was overwhelmed. My eyes couldn’t take it all in. My ears heard many kinds music from various directions. Wafting aromas of delicious food mingled around everyone. Everywhere I turned something intriguing was happening. A buzz of excitement and hearing folks say, “Did you see….”
In the midst of it all were Orange City Arts volunteers and staff— ringleaders to this 3 ring circus of art, music and live mannequin displays. They coordinated all this.
Children were busy drawing with fat pieces of colored chalk on the street. A chalk artist and crew had started scenes and hopscotch games all over Central Avenue’s smooth light gray concrete street. Scattered near the scenes lay chunks of chalk for anyone to pick up and add their own flair. In one spot I noted the directions: add an animal to the forest. Well, in my opinion, the tree needed a blue bird in a nest. Tan chalk for nest, blue for bird, not quite done, pink for beak. Yes, I added my touch. Another young man drew mushrooms. He was excited because he contributed to the artistic scene.
Next I focus on the music: a string quartet in the courtyard behind the Little White Store. Violin and piano duet inside Holland House. A rousing Irish ballad from the rock group. The boisterous street organ blows notes over the crowd. That large antique organ was also visual overload with so many colors painted on the carved figures. Party vibe of electric guitars. An accordion player wearing a beret sitting on a bench in front of the bakery evoked European flair. The young man played songs I’ve never heard before. Boom box blasts dance music and teen age girls laugh and move to it. I wouldn’t call it dancing exactly, mostly goofing around. Adding to the cacophony were voices over the public address system announcing prize winners. Lots of unusual things given away, like locally composed hymns, adult coloring books and Northwestern College theatre tickets.
Looking across the street, a girl I know from church is sitting in a window display doing sign language to music I can’t hear. It makes me pause and smile. Next door another store front has a huge canvas displayed. An oil painting of crab apples in fall comes to life, actually larger than life size, by the brush of a master artist.
My neighbor comes up to me and exclaims about a fantastic window display. Thrusting her smartphone at me she shows photos of the kids posing like mannequins. Meanwhile, in front of the tuxedo rental shop, couples are in formal attire and pose as parents of the bride and groom, alongside the happy couple. Later another couple slowly, mechanically clink goblets to celebrate.
In July when I learned about this event, I volunteered to be a judge in the visual arts category. After searching for the headquarters table and finally locating it I took the clipboard with lots of papers on it, read my instructions and looked at each display. I saw photographs from near (Iowa) and far (Italy). I examined quilted wall hangings on a makeshift clothesline, swaying in a slight breeze. I reached out and was scolded, “Do NOT touch.” Quickly I pulled back my hand, feeling like a little girl who was put in her place.
Village Northwest Unlimited had a large display of so many beautiful things, I could barely take it all in. The woman there explained items were not for sale, but created by handicapped individuals as part of art therapy. I loved it! In the downtown park next to the big old windmill an extensive display of silk scarves flutter in the breeze under large shade trees. It is a riot of color and the silks mimic butterflies floating above flowers, flowers tumbling over the edges of flowerbeds that are only a few feet away. At an artist’s booth I marveled at a collage of grains. Colored rice, seeds and corn were painstakingly arranged into beautiful scenes. Right beside the art is raw material on a table for budding artists to create with. Later I spot people carrying around their seed creations.
Standing next to a simple display is a woman who is giving her art away. The delicate drawings are about 5×7 or 4×6, a convenient size for carrying. She explains she has more than she can use in her scrapbooking hobby. “Go ahead and take one,” she urges each person who walks up.
One particular grouping of paintings caught my eye. This young woman had classic landscapes and farm scenes. However each work had one unusual character in it. Tranquil Americana street scene had a robot walking a dog. Pond with a sea monster peeking above the water. There is a giant bear napping on a barn roof. They were hilarious! Not a typical classy painting to hang above the sofa. She’s an artist with a sense of humor.
After I looked at 20 art displays, the time had come to meet with the other two judges. Our favorites were announced as the top three winners.
For those who like their art on a large screen television, short films from the Prairie Grass Film Challenge played at Joe’s TV & Appliance store.
Mother Goose made an appearance with her puppet friend, a colorful dinosaur named Jemima. Under the bank canopy she told stories to kids of all ages. Her helpers included a shy white rabbit and not so shy children. I love the sound of little kids laughing and it echoed all around this group. A magical Humpty Dumpty complained about how his story usually ended. To conclude her show, Mother Goose persuaded her audience to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider.
Arts on Central took place during the supper hour. To satisfy the hunger of spectators strolling along, the meat market grilled bratwurst and the Little White Store made little Dutch pancakes. Pizza, tacos, Chinese food and more choices tempted taste buds. Some businesses offered free frankfurters, cookies or other treats. In the same way that music overlapped from one area to the next, the aroma of Mexican food blended into Chinese cuisine and all-American hot dogs.
People who attended were having so much fun that the concert in the Windmill Park band shell was a perfect way to end the summer music series. As the sun set on this lovely summer evening audience members appreciated the talents of the six a cappella singers performing a high energy show. Thank you to Orange City Arts — who made such a fun event come to life.
–by Gail Van Grouw
Photos by Doug & Janine Calsbeek