Blog: Tamara Real

Tamara Real has both a passion for and understanding of the arts. As the Executive Director of the Arts Alliance, her non-profit organization has made it mission critical to develop, nurture and sustain Washtenaw County's artistic community. Tamara will be writing about the local challenges and responsibilties to maintaining creative inspiration and expression.

Post No 1: What I Know

I head up the Arts Alliance, a service organization that’s working to create an environment in Washtenaw County where culture and creativity can flourish and the arts are accessible to all.  That means that I eat, sleep and breathe arts, culture, and heritage – which as far as I’m concerned, is about as wonderful a life as one could want.

So, to start this blog for Concentrate (thank you so much for the opportunity!), I thought I’d share with you a little of what we know about arts, culture and heritage in Washtenaw County; what we don’t know, and where I (and others like me who think about these things) think this lively, exciting and fragile sector is headed.

Washtenaw County is simply loaded with cultural opportunities. There are the major ones that everyone is aware of: the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, which love ‘em or hate ‘em, bring in about a half-million visitors every year, and the internationally acclaimed presentations of the University Musical Society, which offers programs you literally can’t see anywhere else.

But perhaps you’re less familiar with the Riverfolk Festival that takes place the first weekend of August in Manchester. (Maybe you’re not even familiar with Manchester. It’s a little community way on the southwestern corner of Washtenaw County, so small it doesn’t even have a traffic light and it likes it like that, thank you very much). The Riverfolk Festival is 2-day, multi-stage event that brings in some truly amazing performers and presents them in a lovely village park.  The performers range from witty folk singers who  wonder why some folks seem to know so much about what’s on God’s mind to rockin’ Cajun groups that will get you up and on the dance floor the organizers lay out before you can say “jumbo!”  There’s an arts and crafts area for those who want to shop, a healthy kids activity area where young ‘uns and their parents can have fun and learn about healthy habits painlessly, and of course, food. My favorite is the fellow who sells home-made root beer (when’s the last time you had a root beer float?), followed closely by the treats cooked up by the nice ladies at one of the local churches. I like to think of this festival as what happens when a sophisticated musical programmer meets small-town America.

Oh, and did I mention that you can listen to the great music, drink your root beer float, and look up at a zillion stars in the sky because there’s no extra street lights to obscure them?  Visit their web site
and you can see more. Definitely worthy marking your calendar for next year!

And what about the Art on the Farm Festival, that will be coming October 26 in Dexter?  Last year, this art show and sale took place on the finest Fall day you could imagine:  blue skies, a crisp, crunch in the air, and just cool enough to need a sweater but warm enough to still feel comfortable. The event literally takes place in two barns on a farm set alongside an old apple orchard. 

So, imagine yourself driving out on the back roads to Dexter on a lovely Fall day. You pass under the railroad bridge, go a little farther, and suddenly spy a number of cars parked alongside a barn and on the road. Walk up to the barn. There’s a banjo group playing and some small children and running/dancing to the music. Parents are chatting and listening to the music. Walk into the barn. Discover a panoply of artists, with their wares set out for you to explore: jewelry, knitted items, paintings, assemblages, photographs, wrought iron, glass, book arts. It’s a bit like discovering the best of the Art Fairs in a charming, rural setting.

There’s lots, lots more I could (and will!) tell you about -- these are two just of my favorites that I think are undiscovered gems in this community we call Washtenaw County.