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Eco-art takes center stage at the Mississippi Earthtones Festival


mandala street artRIGHT: Examples of mandala street art.


ALTON — The 10th annual Mississippi Earthtones Festival, co-organized by Alton Main Street and the Sierra Club, will be held from noon to 10 p.m. Sept. 17.

The annual event, which celebrates the river through art, music and conservation, draws thousands of people. Broadway will be closed to traffic between Alton Street and Henry Street.

Local artists of all types are being recruited. Organizers are specifically seeking street artists, textile artists, fashion designers, potters, hoop dancers, and makers of products from upcycled and natural materials.

Supplies will be provided for a dozen artists to draw mandalas with colorful chalk on the street. Each pre-registered participant will be given a 10-foot by 10-foot space to create a mandala, which is a complex, geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically. This new feature of the festival is being presented by Dark Horse Artworks. Molly Velikis, who is the art teacher at Marquette Catholic High School. She has registered her student art club to work together on a chalk mandala.

“This is a great opportunity for the students to experience a public art project,” she said, “I feel that getting our youth involved in projects such as this is essential in continuing the growth of the arts in our community.”

The Riverbend Yarn Bombers are knitting & crocheting colorful decorations for light poles, trees, fences and other public fixtures to add some liveliness to the streets. The group will be meeting in the lobby of Mineral Springs Mall from 6 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday leading up to the festival to coordinate and hang the work. The group is open to the public, and all skill levels are welcome. The group’s fame has grown beyond our local area, and talented artists from as far as Florida are mailing pieces of textile art to incorporate into this installation. For updates, search for the “Riverbend Yarn Bombers!” group on Facebook.

Chad Nelson and Felicia Breen, owners of Mississippi Mud Pottery, are hosting a “clay village” in their parking lot, and are seeking many local potters who would like to jump on board to sell their wares and demonstrate their craft on-site. “This is such an awesome example of the collaborative culture that exists in Downtown Alton,” said Sara McGibany executive director of Alton Main Street, “our creative entrepreneurs have adopted the mindset that in order to create a destination in Alton, it’s best to look at similar businesses as partners rather than competitors.”

Designers are welcome to submit their work for a Recycled Fashion Show to be presented at 12:30 on the main stage. Curated by the By Design School of Fashion, located at 136 Front St., the show encourages artists to utilize waste by creating garments that turn it into fashion. At least 50 percent of the garment must be made of recycled, reused, or waste materials that would’ve otherwise ended up at a recycling facility or a landfill.

Textile artists will be creating a fabric river scene on a chain-link fence that overlooks the river, punctuated by fish, birds, river creatures, boats, clouds, houses, landmarks, etc. Local artist Sun Smith-Foret will be working with the youth program “Art of Universal Language,” coordinated by Allen Collins, on this public component of an exhibition called “Running Water: Riverwork Project and Watershed Cairns.” A portion of the scene will be worked on by the children in advance, and the piece will be added to by festival-goers during the event. The full exhibit will be presented at the Audubon Center, the Great Rivers Museum and Jacoby Arts Center starting in October 2016.

At 2 p.m. a gallery discussion will be hosted at Jacoby Arts Center by Sun Smith-Foret, with Megan Singleton and Danne Rhaesa, who are featured in the Natural Force exhibition that runs through Sept. 24th. This is a chance to hear first-hand about the intricacies of their creative processes in the development of their eco-conscious, nature-inspired works. The gallery is located within walking distance, just one block from the festival grounds at 627 East Broadway.

Dozens of local artisans and upcyclers will offer their nature-inspired, hand-made, and environmentally-friendly wares. Vendors may choose to set up from either Noon-6pm in the Eco-Zone, or Noon-10pm in the Art Zone, which is closest to the live music. Applications are still being accepted.

There will be several agencies on hand to teach consumers how to incorporate more sustainable practices into their daily lives, along with companies featuring Earth-friendly products and services. “At the MEF, we showcase our region’s nature-based programs, as well as local businesses that are working to help “green” residents’ lives,” said Christine Favilla, co-project manager of the Piasa Palisades Group of the Sierra Club.

Wind-powered music will fill the air from two stages throughout the day. The entertainment line-up on the main stage will feature River Bend performing traditional Bluegrass, rock from Hideous Gentlemen, and Jake’s Leg performing their interpretation of the music of the Grateful Dead, as they have been doing in the St. Louis region for over 35 years. The confluence stage will feature Celia’s Sing-A-Long Dance Party for kids, acoustic rock from The House Band, and Irish sea shanties. There will be instrument-making activities for kids using recycled materials, and organized drum circles for all ages. Anyone interested in learning the art of hoop dancing is welcome to attend two free workshops offered by the Hoop Factory at 3 and 5 near the main stage.

Dark Horse Art Works is coordinating a complimentary exhibit in the event space at Old Bakery Beer Company to coincide with the festival, called ArtHeads. Models are artists are being accepted into this avant garde show that will put psychedelic and blacklight face painting techniques on display. For full details, contact Eric Stauffer at

There is ample parking for festival attendees in the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market parking lot, located at 501 Landmarks Blvd.; guests can simply walk across the pedestrian bridge directly to the event. There will be a great selection of local food and beverages on site.

To register for any of these activities, check out the festival map, read the festival’s “Green Guidelines” or sign up to volunteer please visit

Volunteers are needed for the festival grounds, and for a litter clean-up by boat from 9am-Noon before the festivities begin. To stay up-to-date on announcements, visit:

— From the Illinois Business Journal

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