A city center is often where a great deal of a community's business is coordinated and where government resides. Having a vibrant center has become an important indicator of the strength of a community. More and more, communities are investing in new infrastructure and making a dedicated effort to make their centers more inviting and successful. In recent years, Decatur's leaders have made the revitalization of ours a high priority goal.
Revitalization efforts have keyed on creating economic development throughout the city center by fostering an arts-based economy. Success began with the establishment of the Alabama Center for the Arts (ACA) where college students can obtain a four-year degree in various fine arts programs in the heart of downtown Decatur. The introduction of Phase I of the ACA has led to the opening of restaurants, galleries, retail shops and more in the city center. The addition of new businesses have led to the creation of new jobs in the area. Along with jobs, new opportunities for residential growth are expected in the coming months. Festivals, events and other types of entertainment are regularly available and join Decatur's iconic arts centers – the Carnegie Visual Arts Center and the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts - in providing city residents the opportunity to gather and enjoy a sense of community that continues to grow.
As the development of an arts-based economy continues, Decatur's leaders have looked for ways to bring artists and arts patrons to the city center to discover all that the area has to offer. Toward that end, community volunteers began meeting and brainstorming approximately two years ago following a Chamber-sponsored trip to the Tuscaloosa/Northport area to learn about the Kentuck Arts Center and Festival, specifically to study the feasibility of establishing a similar regional arts festival in the River City. It is with excitement we announce that festival makes its debut the fourth weekend of September 2015.
In its inaugural year, River Clay Fine Arts Festival will be situated on the Decatur City Hall campus – a beautiful greenspace located directly in the center of downtown. The three-day juried fine arts festival will offer a destination for visiting art enthusiasts and area residents to spend time sharing ideas, purchasing art and immersing themselves in the artistic experience. In addition, visitors to the city will have a prime opportunity to discover our burgeoning city center.
River Clay 2015 opens on Friday, Sept. 25, at 5:30 p.m. with River Clay Rendezvous – an arts patron preview party. This ticketed event offers attendees a festive evening of food, drink, music and art. Participants will rendezvous with artists and other arts patrons while having the first opportunity to browse and purchase art from the artist market. The festival continues on Saturday and Sunday, where the public will have numerous opportunities to experience the arts.
The overall focus of River Clay during its initial year will be the visual arts, offering festival attendees many opportunities to visit with artists, purchase art, participate in artist demonstrations and experience student art exhibits. Children are welcome and will find plenty of fun with various hands-on art activities planned and coordinated by a group of fun, creative artists and art teachers. Families are encouraged to spend the day on the festival grounds enjoying musical performances and enjoying lunch from local restaurants and on-site vendors. River Clay will truly offer something for everyone with more creative experiences currently in development.
River Clay offers each of us an opportunity to help our city center prosper and grow. Mark River Clay on your calendar, make the effort to attend, and encourage friends and family to do so as well. Invite your out of town friends to visit the festival and your favorite artists to participate in this fun new event. River Clay is an opportunity for you to be involved in our community for the betterment of our community.
In future years, River Clay will be held on the fourth weekend in September. As the festival grows, expect to see the scope and footprint of the festival to grow as well. Let's work together to create an experience in years to come that will fill all corners of our city center with art, music, dance, and other forms of the artistic experience.
For more information about River Clay Fine Arts Festival or to volunteer, please visit www.riverclay.org.
Noel King is vice president of King Insurance Agency in Decatur and serves as the Chamber's chairman-elect. He is treasurer and board member of River Clay Fine Arts Festival, a non-profit corporation.