Inaugural Russ Fest promotes Cass County arts, parks

Published 4:32 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

VOLINIA TOWNSHIP — A group of local organizations teamed up to host an event promoting both the arts and Cass County’s rich history and natural beauty.

Blue Dart Art, Cass County Parks and Recreation and the Cass County Historical Society welcomed visitors to their inaugural Russ Fest Sunday at Fred Russ Forest Park.

The free public festival featured eight visual artists who were on site doing live paintings while scattered throughout the park, with the public able to walk through the scenery and watch each painter show nature from their own perspective. 

The event also included speakers from the group of painters as well as from the Cass County Parks and Recreation Department and the Cass County Historical Society. Musicians Molly Moon and Riely O’Conner performed original Americana music. There was also music by DJ Sarah and Jill as well as a vocal performance by Jillian Torbet. Drive Through Q was on site serving BBQ and a bake sale was also at the festival.

Founded last year, Blue Dart Art group is a collaboration of artists coming together with a focus on cultural edification, visual beautification, and art appreciation. The group meets weekly and strives to bring beauty to the community through the creation of classical art.

Dart Art founder Sharon Ott said she hopes the festival will become an annual event.

“We are coming together to celebrate art and nature in a way that uplifts everyone,” Ott said. “It’s been a real synergy of happiness.”

Blue Dart Art received a grant from the Michigan Art and Culture Council, which allowed it to fund the event and pay the artists.

Cassopolis native and Blue Dart Art member Jill Vihtalic was one of the artists on hand for Russ Fest. The festival was a special experience for Vihtalic, who used to visit the park as a Cassopolis Ross Beatty High School student more than 50 years ago.

“This area has been a part of my childhood and my education growing up,” she said. “It’s really cool to come out here and do this.”

For Vihtalic, practicing art is a good way to relax and unwind.

“You’re not using technology, you’re away from it,” she said. “Here, you can be one with nature. It’s just very relaxing to me… I can connect with people this way too and my grandchildren like it. It’s really fun.”