Crowds and sunshine were just as plentiful during the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Mid-Arts Festival this weekend. The event was another welcome sign of the emergence of the pandemic that brought most of these events to an end in 2020 – a year that also saw the death of event founder Ruth DeYoung Kohler. This year’s festival was dedicated to Kohler’s memory, and his influence could be seen and felt throughout the park surrounding the arts center, as Ann Brusky, director of public programs at JMKAC, told us. She said it included “artists and demonstrations of all kinds, open-air painters, so you’ll see them scattered around the festival grounds, we have street performers… in fact today there are a wading bird walking. Yesterday we had aerial dances, and even the activities tie into so many things that Ruth, you know, did. She always wanted to make sure you got your hands in some sort of clay. So it’s happening. Just those moments – it’s so beautiful. And even our shirts, so it’s really beautiful that it all goes back to that. You can smell it in the air.
Many longtime attendees have returned for this year’s festival, if only to repeat it all, among them, ceramic artist, musician and Sheboygan-born Tony Menzer, who credits Ruth Kohler with opening her up to many doors in the arts. Menzer said, “I was in the very first artist program in the industry when there were 50 of us in the big tent. The art fair here has always been a great source of inspiration – and money, in fact, because we did well!
And Menzer, who has traveled the performing arts circuit across the country, says the Sheboygan festival is “up there” with any other festival around, saying the festival is: “… as good as it is. anything in New York, as good as the International Crafts Fest in New York was, easily. Some of the same people would be there. As good as the Old Town Festival in Chicago. And these are the largest, highest quality, and most financially beneficial shows in the Midwest. But this one, for the size of the city, is mind blowing!
And, judging by the size of the crowd and their enthusiasm, it’s a sentiment that was widely shared over the past weekend.