Thoughts on being rejected by the Virginia Highlands Festival
The Virginia Highlands Festival has been an amazing annual festival for our region here in Central Appalachia for as long as I can remember. It is full of family friendly events and you can find vendors from all kinds of businesses coming to this event to display their products. From antiques to face painting, you can find so much entertainment at this annual fun-fest.
Long before I joined the AAG I always sought out local artists at events like this. I’ve always had a soft spot for supporting local artists. They are the heart and soul of the place they call home, and here in Appalachia it is our artists that define and represent who we are as a culture and people. Their role in our communities, in my opinion, is vital. The Virginia Highlands Festival has always had open arms for our artists. Artists from all different genres. However, something changed this year. Artists are welcome to be a part of the festival, just not all artists, it seems. The AAG was informed that we were no longer considered "artists" and were excluded from the Juried Arts show at the Barter Green. As of this moment the guild is not included anywhere at the upcoming festival. It left members of the guild scratching their head and very disappointed at missing an opportunity to show their craft to the public. It left the leadership angry at first, but ultimately broken hearted. After asking the festival committee to reconsider, they refused to budge.
It came down to one simple question. Are writers artists? The festival committee, despite thinking otherwise for years, this year said “NO.”
I sat down to ask myself a tough question. Are writers artists? I’ve been writing books for years. I thought I was an artist. What about all my other fellow members of the guild? I look at them as artists. It seems that the committee chose to only consider those that have a venue to showcase their art as actual artists. The painter has a studio. The craft maker has a workshop. A sculptor has a studio. A musician can share his or her art with the world through sound. A writer…well, most of us just have a desk in the back corner of our house or apartment.
I have a friend in Cincinnati who has been a writer for almost three decades. He is a technical writer and works on instruction manuals for various corporate products. Would I consider him an artist? Not at all. Shakespeare, on the other hand, was an artist. Mark Twain was an artist. I have never met a person that wouldn’t say that Emily Dickenson or Robert Frost were not artists that stirred the souls of a nation. Some of today’s greatest storytellers that use the written word are always referred to as artists.
You see, writers are artists with a different type of canvas. Our mind and the blank page in front of us is our canvas. Our studio is a bit hard to find because it’s stirring around in our brains, somewhere down in our soul. It’s a bit harder to invite someone into our studio and show them around. It’s not a visual art that we provide. Some choose to see merely words on a page. No different than a textbook or a leaflet left on their door while they are at work.
We don’t need a studio. Our workspace is in our head. We are artists with a unique way of creating art. Other artists use a visual or audio medium to share their work. You see it with your eyes or you hear it. With writers, our canvas can be as small as a poem that declares undying faith and love for life, or it can be as vast as the universe and beyond. You see, we stir our imaginations and spin tall tales and legends, the paint on our canvas are stories that only the minds’ eye can see. Our art spurs on the imagination and tugs on the heart strings of those that appreciate it.
You see, our art also brings history to life, puts the reader into another place or time, sends them on adventures, or leads them closer to God through the stories we paint on our canvas in our own way. The words we paint on our canvas can take a reader back to the street they grew up on as a kid to live vicariously through a character, or take them worlds away to save the galaxy.
It’s quite a picture we paint, each of us individually. I don’t think that the good people on the committee meant to insult the writers of the region with the slight. They just haven’t walked in the shoes of a writer or experienced the effort, the heart and soul we pour onto every page. Although we are excluded from the festival, we remain supportive of all of our fellow artists out there that work hard to bring their work to share with the public. I hope that they will also be just as supportive of us.