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Partnership brings clay emphasis back to downtown

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Clay art is back in downtown Lincoln. Last Saturday, the newly-formed Art League of Lincoln held the California ClayFest at Beerman Plaza. How that came together is largely due to the nonprofit Friends of Lincoln Kids organization. Friends of Lincoln Kids President Jeff Greenberg recently invited the new art organization to combine a clay fair with his organization?s International Food Festival. Greenberg has been planning the food festival, formerly known as the Italian Festival, since last year. ?I remembered the city wouldn?t let them do anything without insurance so I jumped in and talked to Andy McMurtrie of the Art League?s (board of directors) and said, ?Let?s get together. You can?t put an event on because the city only lets nonprofits put on events with insurance.?? That meant the new Art League of Lincoln did not have to scramble to purchase city of Lincoln-mandated event insurance because it would be covered Saturday through the Friends of Lincoln Kids insurance. The Art League, formed a few months ago, has to build a financial base so this partnership saved the group from event insurance expenses. While the league is incorporated, McMurtrie said this week, ?our nonprofit status will be coming soon.? A little history is necessary here. The former Lincoln Arts, which unexpectedly closed its doors on Feb. 3, hosted the annual Feats of Clay four-week celebration every April. The celebration brought thousands of visitors to downtown Lincoln over the four-week period for 24 consecutive years. Until this year, however. Lincoln Arts? sudden closure meant the four-week juried Feats of Clay ceramics competition in the Gladding, McBean terra-cotta factory along with factory tours and a Teams of Clay competition among area businesses did not happen this year. Those Lincoln signature events are on hold until an arts organization is strong enough to take them over. The Art League of Lincoln hopes to be the organization bringing back Feats of Clay next year. The league will soon have 200 members, according to its executive director Jean Cross. The ClayFest one-day event was also in jeopardy this year, due to Lincoln Arts? closure. But ClayFest avoided being shut down this year and debuted Saturday as California ClayFest, the first event of the Art League of Lincoln. The return of clay arts a few months after Lincoln Arts shut down is because the International Food Festival sponsor let the new Lincoln arts group participate. Greenberg was gracious Saturday about the combined efforts. ?ClayFest is phenomenal,? Greenberg said. ?It?s a great partnership because ClayFest is in the area of the Archives Museum and they?re swamped with people.? By 1 p.m. Saturday, the Archives Museum volunteer staff had 84 new visitors to the facility. Staff joked that only a few visitors drop by the museum, located off Beermann Plaza, other days. ?I?m stoked,? Cross said Saturday afternoon. ?It?s a wonderful blend with the food fest, the Rotary Kids Clay Camp, Ray Gonzales got 25 sculptors to demonstrate. Gladding, McBean donated all the unfired sewer pipe and clay for kids. There?s a wonderful feeling from the community.? Cross also said that Greenberg ?was great to work with and he grandfathered us in.? The only downside that I saw Saturday was sparse attendance. Greenberg on Monday said that ?500 people? were at the event. ?Last year, we had a couple of thousand visitors. It was way down this year. You could have shot a canyon down the street,? Greenberg said. ?I was shocked. We had vendors leaving the show at 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 p.m. It was sad.? Based on the low turnout at Saturday?s festival, Greenberg is now considering which annual Friends of Lincoln Kids events will continue. ?We?re hearing people say they?re tired of seeing the same events every year. When you see events are not supported by the local community, it?s time to consider saying goodbye,? Greenberg said. ?All this work to barely break even is not worth it. For the next two weeks, we?ll sit down with numbers and try to figure out the future of events.? In the meantime, McMurtrie wants the Arts League of Lincoln to work with Friends of Lincoln Kids next spring. ?We would love to partner with Jeff again. The crowds will be much bigger because we hope to have the (Gladding, McBean art) tours again,? McMurtrie said. It?s too bad that more residents didn?t see the festival. Both organizations put plenty of volunteer hours into the event. Hopefully next year, the crowds will be back up.