The Columbus Arts Festival returns this summer for its 60th anniversary

Live music, food vendors and local artists will gather June 10-12 along the Scioto Mile River for the Columbus Arts Festival. Credit: Courtesy of Joe Maiorana.

The Columbus Arts Festival — known for its live performances, diverse vendors and delicious food — will return to the city June 10-12 after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

The festival began 60 years ago on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse as a small art fair and has since grown into a full-scale arts festival hosted by the Greater Columbus Arts Council on the Scioto Mile River. This year, the festival will partner with various organizations such as American Electric Power, Rhinegeist Brewery and Gateway Film Center.

“We have over 200 artists this year from across the country,” said Sean Kessler, festival director and Ohio State alumnus in 2002. “I think 34 or 35 states and Canada are represented by all of these artists, and a number of them are local.”

Kessler said the festival is known for its appreciation of local artists, but will also include artwork and performances by artists from across the country. This year, there will be three different stages and a variety of live performances that viewers can join the festival with, he said.

“We’ll have a kind of main stage in Bicentennial Park which will be music, dance and theater,” Kessler said. “We have a ‘Big Local’ stage that plays only local music all day, every day of the festival. And then we have a spoken word and acoustic creation lounge that really excites us.

Canceling the festival for the 2020 and 2021 seasons was a difficult decision, but Kessler and Jenica Richards, the festival and special events coordinator for the arts council, said they decided it was in the best interests of all to do so.

“She and I really had to pivot and do our best to start planning for 2022 — when we knew we could do it,” Kessler said. “We’ve been really lucky with a lot of our sponsors sticking with us, and we haven’t had to cut anyone because of it.”

Kessler and Richards are the only two full-time staff members at the Columbus Arts Festival, and Kessler said the festival relies heavily on volunteers.

“We kind of build a city in days and tear it down in days,” he said. “And that can’t be done without the volunteer committee and all the volunteers who come over the weekend.

Donna Estep, a local artist and one of the leaders of Cap City Creatives, said she had been a volunteer for the festival’s “Big Local” tent for nine years. Her experience volunteering for the festival has raised her profile in the local arts community, she said.

“It’s kind of a great way to take the pulse of what’s going on in Columbus,” Estep said. “GCAC does so much for the artists themselves.”

Along with being exposed to new and upcoming local artists, Estep said she also finds great joy in the work she does.

“Volunteering to do the arts for me is not work, it’s my heart,” Estep said. “That’s one of the main reasons I want to volunteer, because I want to see the art scene, you know, continue to grow.”

Estep is thrilled to see local artists once again gaining visibility through the Columbus Arts Festival and said patrons should expect great things from this year’s event.

“There are lots of booths for local arts groups. I believe that generally BalletMet and some of the other really wonderful organizations that are here in Columbus are all represented, as well as the arts,” she said. “So I think part of that, you know, the size and the location, you just can’t beat it.”

More information about the Columbus Arts Festival can be found at website, and those wishing to volunteer for the festival can register through Experience Columbus’ website.

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