Ch@t:18th annual folk art event going virtual this year

Posted 4/24/20

With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the cancellations of events everywhere, the organizers of ClydeFEST — an annual kids’ art event celebrating a local folk art hero — had to get creative. …

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Ch@t:18th annual folk art event going virtual this year

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With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the cancellations of events everywhere, the organizers of ClydeFEST — an annual kids’ art event celebrating a local folk art hero — had to get creative. Instead of gathering on April 25 for “a huge, creative, messy event,” the Chatham Arts Council has made the 2020 version of ClydeFEST a virtual event. This week, we speak with April Starling, CAC’s Marketing/Public Relations Leader, about the change.

ClydeFEST is named in honor of Bynum folk art legend Clyde Jones, who, among other things, is known for his chainsaw-created “critters.” His creations have been on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, and as far away as Africa and the Great Wall of China.

The Chatham Arts Council is known for ClydeFEST. What made the CAC decide to turn ClydeFEST into a virtual event?

We’re all living through a pretty stressful time right now and even though we couldn’t gather for the 18th annual ClydeFEST, we wanted to do something to connect people (virtually) and bring a little cheer. We thought the idea of placing critter cut-outs in locations where people will already be visiting would be an easy, safe way to continue the spirit of ClydeFEST. We are really fortunate to have an amazing community partner, The Jester Group at Baird, and other awesome Chatham businesses sponsor this virtual event.

Tell us a little about the virtual event. How does it work?

We will be placing wooden critter cut-outs, with a few art supplies, at two locations in the county, which are due to remain open: Chatham Marketplace in Pittsboro and Oasis Market in Siler City. We’re hoping community members will pick up a critter on their essential weekly grocery runs and embellish it with paint, markers, sticks, broken toy pieces, feathers — anything to make a unique piece of art. The virtual event will culminate on April 25 when participants post photos of their critters via social media under the hashtag #ClydeFestToGo. Together, we will create exceptional pieces of art throughout this county.

Most people in Chatham County know Clyde Jones and his critters, but many may not know much about folk art. Can you shed some light on that?

Absolutely. There are so many definitions of folk art! Folk art is something that is handmade with found objects, usually with bright bold colors, and it can be a way to reflect the artist’s culture. It’s often created by self-taught artists who tend to be somewhat isolated from their communities — so in this really unprecedented time of separation, it’s really resonant. We’re hoping ClydeFEST-to-Go will provoke young artists to think outside the box when they create a folk art critter. The beauty of any type of art, but also folk art, is that it provides an opportunity for the artist to be as creative as they like, producing something truly unique.

How long will these critter cut-outs be available?

Our goal is to have critters available at the Chatham Marketplace and Oasis Market through April 25. We don’t know how quickly they will run out, but if they do, we also have downloadable critters for people to adorn on our website:

What are you hoping will come of this event?

To be honest, we are doing our best to make lemonade out of lemons. Staying home and practicing social distancing are the best things we can do right now, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Many people have lost their jobs and for those who haven’t, they’re trying to figure out how to effectively work from home, without their colleagues and community connections that they rely on. There are also so many parents out there struggling through new homeschool routines that they don’t feel equipped to handle. We’re hoping #ClydeFestToGo can become a cool art project for those homeschoolers; provide creative expression for kids and adults alike; bring our community together with a love of art; and pay homage to the incredible folk art talent we see every day in Chatham County.

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