By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA — Local artistic talent will be celebrated during the first-ever We Love aRtCS Music and Art Festival in May.
On Thursday, local business owners and organizers of the inaugural event gathered in front of Gabler Realty on Main Street to contribute to the cause and voice their support.
“We are donating funds to support the creation of this arts festival and to be able to support arts in this community,” said Pastor Chuck Engelhardt from Abounding Love Christian Fellowship Church.
The festival is the joint brainchild of a local grassroots group that got its start on social media and blossomed from there.
“I started with some other people the I Love RCS Facebook group and a few of us decided to do a little offshoot project to have a street arts and music festival,” co-organizer Ted Smith said. “One thing led to another and we partnered with the group RCS Friends of the Arts, who support arts programming, sort of like a PTO for the arts in the schools, but also they try to fund kids’ art opportunities.”
The two groups got together to organize the May festival, a project that dovetailed perfectly with the mission of the RCS Friends of the Arts.
“We raise funds to support the students who have passion for the arts,” said President Donna Hommel. “Just like the Sports Association raises funds for students who are in sports, we decided we felt those kids who really have a passion for the arts don’t have that same support, so we created this organization.”
The RCS Friends of the Arts will give out their first three scholarships to graduating RCS students in June — one for a music student, one for art and one for a special education student who participates in any music or art activity outside their classroom.
The We Love aRtCS group tried to make its first foray into an arts festival during the annual village Friendship Festival last year, but pandemic restrictions made that difficult, Smith said.
“We sort of started last year with the Friendship Festival where we wanted to try it, but because of COVID, schools weren’t really rehearsing so we couldn’t do music, but we did do art stuff. But this is the first real festival we are doing,” Smith said.
The festival, which will be held on Railroad Avenue and in the parking lot of Trackside Pizza, will feature several select ensembles from the RCS school district, including the jazz bands and select choruses from both the middle and high school, the high school drama club and several community bands, Smith said.
“We will put a stage in the parking lot at Trackside Pizza and have some vendors that will be selling arts and crafts types of things, and also we’ll have some art on display, mostly by students, but some community art, too,” Smith said.
The local murals that have been cropping up around Main Street — particularly the one at the pizza restaurant — proved inspirational for the festival itself.
“We thought, ‘This is great — let’s capitalize on that,’” Smith said.
Main Street — at the heart of the village — was selected specifically for the event.
“We care a lot about RCS and Ravena is the center of the entire district,” Smith said. “We want to bring some energy to downtown Ravena and we don’t want it to just be a route through town, we want it to be a place where people can actually live and enjoy life here.”
Co-organizer Bridget Engelhardt said the festival grew out of a love for the arts and a desire to support them.
“This grew organically,” Bridget Engelhardt said. “Ted [Smith] and Caitlin [Appleby] and I were chatting about the arts — it started with the murals — and we all really value the arts and wanted to bring a focus to them.”
Appleby, who was elected to the Ravena Village Board in March, has organized the village’s Friendship Festival for years and wanted to lend a hand with the arts festival as well.
“I think this festival will highlight a lot of our culture that otherwise gets no spotlight on it,” said Appleby, the group’s treasurer. “I feel like there is a lot of talent in this area that doesn’t have a venue to be exposed. We have never done anything that highlights strictly music and art, so I think this will bring different people out and be a fun community day.”
Judi Gabler, owner of Gabler Realty and a donor to the festival, said her love of the arts has been deep-rooted in the local area since her years at RCS High School.
“I was really into the music program — Mr. Baxter was my music teacher back in the day — and also in the art program and theater. I was in theater for all four years of high school,” Gabler said. “I think it is really important to embrace it for the community and I wanted to be a big part of this, so I am very excited.”
The We Love aRtCS Festival will be held May 14 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Railroad Avenue. There is no admission fee.