The evolution of Las Vegas into a community with steadily increasing cultural depth has been fed largely by embracing the sometimes awkward interplay between high art and pop entertainment. The Summerlin Festival of Arts, which celebrates its 21st year Oct. 8-9, is experiencing a parallel transformation as event organizers strive to present a collection of works and performances that are both artistically strong and broadly engaging.
“We constantly go back and forth on the atmosphere that we are creating,” explained Summerlin marketing vice president Danielle Bisterfeldt. “It is a work in progress and a delicate balance. We are always trying to offer a fresh experience for everyone. There is photography, sculpture, jewelry — some representation of just about any medium you can imagine.”
The popular festival relocated to downtown Summerlin in 2015 from its former home in Summerlin Centre Community Park, and Bisterfeldt believes the change of venue has led to increased attendance — more than 30,000 last year — and heightened participation interest from top-tier talent. More than 100 designers, craftspeople and artists will exhibit at the juried show, the slight majority of which are from outside Nevada.
Among them is Richard Daniel, who creates abstract canvases that glean a sensory essence of the physical environment of his home near Joshua Tree National Park in California.
“You get colors and moods in the desert — there is a drama to it — a lot of emotion that you just don’t get anywhere else,” Daniel said. “The changing of the light throughout the day is really important. For the painting that I do, the environment really has a lot of control.”
Daniel explained that the application of successive material layers onto his canvases is the secret to his work. “I do an acrylic wash to set the composition. Then, with my airbrush, I put on layer after layer. I use different solvents to get interactives in certain areas. These are things I have experimented with for years to get certain feelings in the paintings. What I’m looking for is an abstract expressionist painting with a lot of depth and a lot of movement to carry your eye into the painting. I want to evoke imagination and get a feeling of the drama of the environment.”
Also featured is Busan, South Korea-based photographer Won-il Chung, whose large- format black-and-white works focus on sensually lit elements from nature and architecture.
Jewelry designer Sarvi Hosseini and glass sculptor Marcus Thesing, both from Laguna Beach, California, will be exhibiting for the first time. Hosseini employs lost wax- casting techniques and enameling to create contemporary, nature-inspired pieces in gold and sterling silver. Thesing produces handblown art glass with sybaritic, organic shapes and ribbons of vibrant color, often sandblasted to remove light refraction.
“Glass is a magical, surreal medium to work in,” he said. “When it is hot, it is malleable and strong at the same time. It perfectly records everything you do to it.
“I love the idea that the shapes are very organic and fluid to create the feeling of movement. I’m influenced by surreal works of art, such as Dali, and I choose colors to evoke certain emotions.”
Thesing said that after 23 year of working in the medium, he typically has full control over the resulting glass, but occasionally he is forced to improvise.
“Working with glass is a dance,” he explained. “The idea is to have control, but things have to be precise if you are to get what you want all the time. But some of my most popular designs have come out of losing control and needing to be spontaneous. It allows you to play.”
The festival also offers an eclectic array of performance art, including pop-up-style dance exhibitions from the Nevada Ballet Theatre atop 4-by-8 stages in the Macy’s Promenade at the top of the hour between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day and the festival’s dining venue from 6-7 p.m. each evening.
Sean and John Scott, the tap-dancing identical twins from the Vaudeville-inspired variety show Absinthe, currently in production at Caesars Palace, also will be featured, as will locally based musician Jeremy Cornwell, who uses looping techniques that solely create complex instrumental compositions to accompany his vocals.
Other scheduled performers include Las Vegas-based pop band Avalon Landing, Chadwick Johnson, Del Sol High School Mariachi Band, Meadows Elite Strings, Palo Verde High School Jazz Band and Faith Lutheran High School Women’s Ensemble.
“We have a lot of great, fun acts, just an eclectic mix of everything,” said Bisterfeldt. “It will be something different every hour, Saturday through Sunday, an all-day experience.”
DISCOVERY Children’s Museum is hosting the Children’s Pavilion and will provide hands-on art activities with a seasonal theme.
“They always come up with something that is fun and interactive,” said Bisterfeldt. “Things that, at the same time, are teaching art.”
Event organizers also are presenting less traditional art-related experiences, such as a demonstration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Robotics Lab and a vegetable-carving exhibition by chef Chan Boupha of the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts Las Vegas.
“How (Boupha) and his team create flowers and sculpture out of food is just so beautiful and amazing,” Bisterfeldt said. “It is all done right there in front of the attendees and is a lot of fun. Truly, he has the most energy of any human I know.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal is sponsoring the event, along with Jaguar Land Rover Las Vegas and KSNE-FM Sunny 106.5.
“Our sponsors are so important,” Bisterfeldt explained. “It really does take a village to pull off an event of this size.”
The Summerlin Festival of Arts is free to the public and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1980 Festival Plaza Drive. Performance schedules and more information are available at summerlin.com.