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By Eric Fleischauer | Staff Writer | Decatur Daily

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River Clay Fine Arts FestivalOrganizers hope the first River Clay Fine Arts Festival, scheduled for September, will be based on Decatur City Hall grounds.

The regional festival will include judging of artists’ works, art sales, children’s activities and numerous tents where artists can display their productions and techniques.

The planned festival is loosely modeled after Northport’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts, which held its 44th annual event in October. Kentuck attracts about 300 artists each year. In addition to painters, Kentuck attracts blacksmiths, woodworkers, potters, quilters, jewelers and glassblowers.

“Kentuck is more folk art,” said Noel King, coordinator of not-for-profit River Clay Arts Festival Inc.’s steering committee. “Ours is going to focus more on visual arts, such as sculpture, oil paintings, watercolors and those kinds of things. We’ll try to stay away from non-artisan crafts. It’s aimed at bringing in true artists.”

Not everyone can participate in the festival. Artists must apply by uploading pictures of their work to a website, and a jury of art experts will evaluate the suitability of their work for the festival.

King said a group of jurors will review the work to make sure it is fine arts and to decide whether they can participate.

“It’s a process that guarantees a higher quality of participant,” he said.

Participants can enter artwork in a competition that will take place during the event, scheduled Sept. 25-27.

By being selective, King said, the group hopes to improve the event.

“The goal is for the artists to be able to show their work and for local residents to enjoy seeing the work,” King said. “Most importantly, we want the artists to sell the work. We hope to develop a festival that is high enough quality that it will attract buyers as well as other visitors from outside the city.”

King said the group hopes to attract more than 100 artists to the festival. Artists will set up tents on City Hall grounds to display their work and demonstrate the artistic process to visitors.

The City Council will vote Dec. 15 on River Clay’s request to use City Hall grounds, including the tiled front entrance area, as the focal point of the festival.

“The reason we chose the City Hall campus is it is a beautiful, and I think underutilized, park-like area,” King said. “It’s centrally located between Bank Street and Second Avenue. It’s within walking distance of the Alabama Center for the Arts, which we hope will be involved in the festival. The location would really support the idea of bringing all of downtown together.”

Councilman Chuck Ard said the location also helps tie the festival to artist studios and to the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

“I see it as important to the city,” said Ard, who met with Kentuck organizers last year in a trip sponsored by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re trying to establish ourselves as an arts-leveraged economy. If we can develop an arts weekend, it will do a lot to bring people into Decatur.”

Ard said the focus on arts is a way for Decatur to distinguish itself from other cities.

“I see it as economic development as much as anything,” Ard said. “We’re trying to get people into the city. When they get into the city, they spend money. When they spend money, we get sales tax.”

Organizers of Kentuck, which has three permanent staff members, say the festival has an annual economic impact of $5 million.

King said the name of the event, “River Clay,” was meant to be memorable and to tie the event to Decatur.

“In the old days, many of the buildings were made from bricks created from river clay,” King said. “The steering committee liked the sound and they liked the feel of this being the foundation of the arts festival. The name just kind of stuck.”

King said the group will begin seeking volunteers and artists early next year.