Fifty Years of Arts in the Park

The annual Kalispell festival will proceed this week with precautions in place as it celebrates a half-century

By Maggie Dresser
Arts in the Park in Kalispell on July 14, 2017. Beacon file photo.

At the Hockaday Museum of Art’s first Arts in the Park in 1970, live performances, artist demonstrations and art booths took over Depot Park, a scene not drastically different from the event in more recent years.

After the Hockaday’s education director Kathy Martin began researching the festival’s history, she learned that Arts in the Park had gone through five name changes in the last 50 years, had a few different locations and even took a hiatus one summer for unknown reasons.

“As I was doing my research, I thought, ‘Where’s Arts in the Park?’” Kathy said.

Starting as the Flathead International Arts Festival, it eventually transitioned into Art in the Park in 1980 and finally became Arts in the Park the following year.

An adaptive festival from its earliest stages, Arts in the Park is adjusting to meet the standards of the COVID-19 pandemic. The founders originally started the festival half a century ago to build an arts community in the Flathead Valley and raise awareness, and what started with only 11 booths grew to 110 last year, with 65 this year in the pandemic.

“Fifty years ago there were hardly any of these anywhere in the state,” Hockaday Board President Robin Bailey said. “For the artist, that was a really unique opportunity to be able to come and have a display and an opportunity to sell and get introduced to people who might come here as patrons.”

Artists and patrons still attend the Arts in the Park festival for the same reasons they did decades ago — it’s a fun event that brings art into the community while helping support artists’ livelihoods.

Hockaday Executive Director Alyssa Cordova says she and the board of directors discussed potentially cancelling the event, but they wanted to be able to support artists during the pandemic while providing a fun event for the community.

“We talked about how this affected so many artists,” Cordova said. “So many artists have had so many events cancel, and this is their livelihood … Being a museum that was started by artists, it still remains part of our mission to be there for artists and support them.”

Cordova says this year’s Arts in the Park has been scaled back by about 20%, with about 50 fewer booths than normal. Masks are required for all staff and volunteers, and there will be hand-washing and sanitation stations around Depot Park with markings on the ground to direct the flow of traffic. There will be no beer garden this year, but there will be a beer and wine tent but without alcohol on tap to prevent unnecessary contact.

The Arts in the Park 50th Anniversary will be held in Depot Park in Kalispell on Friday, Aug. 28 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 29 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

More than 15 musicians will play over the weekend, including Brent Jameson Duo, Dan Dubuque and Dave von Kleist. KALICO Art Center will provide kids’ activities, but there will be no face painting.

Tickets are $4 daily or $5 for the whole weekend.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.