Dogwood tweaking to attract more tweetersPublished 8:52am Friday, April 23, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
What do Food Network’s Sunday afternoon chef “Big Daddy” Aaron McCargo Jr. and ageless rocker Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits have in common?
Yes, they’ll both be in Dowagiac soon at Dogwood Fine Arts Festival.
But that’s not the entire answer we seek.
In the past two decades Dogwood, a non-profit arts and education organization, has grown from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwen Brooks reading one night at Central to a nine-day festival anchored by an awe-inspiring array of authors that began with Kurt Vonnegut and to what this year will be an ambitious addition with a more than $150,000 budget, a year-’round army of more than 200 volunteers and 4,000 appreciative patrons fascinated about how it’s pulled off in a town of not much more than that.
“We probably have one of the finest small-town art festivals in the country,” said Publicity Chair Max Sala.
Dowagiac, of course, believed in magic long before it brought John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful to the Performing Arts Center in 2009 for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doubleheader with Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
While Herman’s Hermits’ hefty haul of hits poured out in the 1960s at a rate that landed him on the cover of Time magazine – “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “Silhouettes,” “I’m Into Something Good” – the 62-year-old Noone’s showmanship flair created a new generation of fans who proudly proclaim themselves “Noonatics.”
Dogwood Fine Arts Festival Secretary Bobbie Jo Hartline told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 that she has received reservations from every state but two, Utah and New Mexico.
“Half of our patronage comes from out of town,” Hartline said. “We get to expose what makes Dowagiac so special to new people every year, and they come back. Two years ago the seniors who walked across stage and accepted their diplomas were the very first class in Dowagiac who grew up from birth to graduation with the Dogwood Festival. The kids seeing the storyteller event this year, that makes an imprint. So do the sculptures. They will hunger and thirst for that the rest of their lives, whether it’s in our community or another community they go to build.”
Therein lies the answer.
While the world’s best authors remain a staple – Dennis Lehane, Friday, May 7, wrote “Mystic River” and “Gone, Baby, Gone,” which became Academy Award-nominated movies, and “Shutter Island,” directed by Martin Scorsese – the festival brain trust is always looking ahead to replenish and broaden the experience it offers – especially given the educational component of its growing mission.
Chicago Tap Theatre will teach the Grand Old City a new term Saturday, May 8: tap opera.
“We want to provide a diversified experience for all who participate,” Hartline said. “We dedicate our efforts to helping youth grow into a broader appreciation of the arts and other cultures. We promote personal involvement with your community through the arts. We could not provide these programs without the support of our sponsors,”
The youth movement also explains Dogwood’s foray into culinary arts.
As Sala explained, “We’re going to branch out into a new genre, foodies. (McCargo) took part in one of their contests, won and first prize was his own show for a year. Aaron is not only going to kick off the festival Thursday, May 6, at the Performing Arts Center at the middle school, but he will also do a master class with students in our schools and community on Friday.”
“Max said to me, ‘We have a formula and it works and we like the recipe, even though we stir up the ingredients different every year.’ For the board and the volunteers and the community to support stepping over that line, outside the box, in this economic landscape, was really a step out on faith. We’re very proud and excited to have something new that’s going to bring a new set of patrons to Dowagiac who may not have ever known we were here. It’s one more flavor to add to the buffet.”
“Actually, Bobbie said that,” Sala chuckled. “I said I like food.”
Sala, a retired educator, previously confined himself to music, bringing acts to town he thrilled to as a youth on Ed Sullivan’s show.
“Sunday evening I sat in front of the television and got to see Herman’s Hermits perform, the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Byrds. Never once did I think not only would I meet these people personally, but be able to communicate back and forth.
“Many of these Noonatics weren’t around when Herman’s Hermits started. They can be in their 30s. They say (Noone) is one of the finest showmen you ever want to see. I can personally attest he’s a nice guy. Dennis LeHane, we caught a break when we booked him because we didn’t know the movie ‘Shutter Island’ was going to come out, which gave us a pretty good boost. If you don’t understand the ending, join the club. It’s quite an intriguing novel.”
“We constantly think about attracting younger people to insure that we’re here tomorrow and years to come,” Sala said.
“That’s why we got into this culinary thing. In all honesty, it’s about as big an undertaking as the festival has ever taken on,” since it’s more than getting McCargo here, but lining up appliances to create his on-stage kitchen and so forth.
“The backbone of this festival for years was visiting authors. We can all talk about whether people read books as much as they used to,” Sala said, “but in constantly looking at what the next popular group of authors is, it’s not as easy as it once was.
“With the facilities of the Performing Arts Center at the middle school, we could move into music and attract higher-price performers than what we were once able to do. But in all honesty, you have to hand it to the people who are in charge. Rather than sit idle, they keep tweaking. In the long run, it not only bodes well for the festival, it bodes well for this community.”
The storyteller visited with more than 1,600 youth last year, including 100 preschoolers. Doug Elliott, on Wednesday, May 12, is an author and hosted and created “Herbs, Teas and Remedies” on PBS’s Farmers Almanac TV.
Elliott has performed and presented from Canada to the Caribbean and been featured at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn.
Dowagiac will join his resume along with the Smithsonian Institute, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
“Our artists work directly with youth during the day,” Hartline said. “Our 11th and 12th graders are eligible for a Dogwood scholarship which helps them with summer programs. Our Cultural Ambassadors program works in every school in Cass County. Those kids get to attend arts functions they might not normally get to, then they go back to their schools as mentors. Goals we’ve achieved: a week-long festival, an art gallery and headquarters” in Huntington Bank. “No more cardboard boxes. We love church basements, but an office is great!”
Another goal realized last winter was the debut of a Youth Chorale nurtured from the vocal summer camp David Carew oversees at Southwestern Michigan College. “Five years ago that program was a dream,” she said. “Now those camp graduates are on stage with their mentors.”
Dogwood has a Web site at www.dogwoodfinearts.org, where “you can buy tickets at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
“Up Front Art Walk” May 3-17 could be enjoyed at 3 a.m.
It’s original works from area artists specializing in oil, watercolor, stone, metal, glass, mixed medium and photography, among others, displayed 24/7 in downtown Dowagiac storefronts.
It’s free, or you can literally “window shop,” as all works are available for purchase from this juried show.
With school cuts and job loss, Saturday, May 8′s free Toast ‘n’ Jam for Kids, featuring Lake Effect Winds, will be more important than ever for exposing ages 3-12 to classical music.
Lake Effect Winds is a woodwind quintet from St. Joseph that will be performing at 2 p.m. at Beckwith Theatre.
Since seats are limited, reservations are suggested; 782-1115.
Those who fail to see benefit from a dozen public sculptures should hear the excitement in Hartline’s voice when she talks about Tuck Langland’s trilogy and “icons standing as sentinels in our community. Our 12th will be dedicated the day after Mother’s Day at Borgess-Lee (Memorial Hospital). He has two other members of his family (the first, Dance of Creation in Farr Park and Resting Dancer by City Hall) and now he’s giving up another to join our family in Dowagiac.
“It makes me very proud, for example, to sit in my office at the Dogwood Festival and look at a sculpture (2005′s Mount ‘n’ View) that was touched by Nina Akamu, who created da Vinci’s horse, which has a sister in Milan, Italy, and know that everything that we do in our little town is connected around the world.”
The tea, “Did You Know?” combines history with mystery at The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College on Saturday, May 15, at 1 p.m.
Youth Fine Arts Night takes place Thursday, May 13 – the same night Sarah Palin addresses The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.
The festival annually commences Mother’s Day weekend.
“We love getting to talk to our hometown because these are the people with the biggest vested interest in this community and its future,” said Hartline, who also hosts the “Talk of the Town” radio program on WGTO Mondays from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.