Come one come all: High Arts Festival brings creative community together

words and photos by Taylor Patterson


October, 2017

Akron’s already vibrant art scene will bloom into full color during this year’s High Arts Festival, a 23-day event featuring musicians, filmmakers and visual artists. The festival is an evolution of the Akron Art Prize and intends to bring exposure and community to the city’s art scene.

Artist Francisca Ugalde creating live art at the High Arts Festival Opening Party. (PHOTO: Taylor Patterson/The Devil Strip)

The public and jurors will vote to determine the winning artists in 12 film, music and visual art categories.The event organizers will dole out $24,000 in cash prizes to the winners, and while that’s substantial, the benefits of the event go beyond money.

“The purpose is to provide an opportunity for local artist to gain exposure and put themselves out there in a really accessible way,” said Kelli Fetter, director of events at the Downtown Akron Partnership.

A diverse group of artists with a breadth of experience will flock to the festival. Everyone from professionals to first-timers will feature their work, vying for exposure and prizes. Fetter hopes that the event will encourage artists to collaborate and break from their silos, establishing a more unified art community.

High Arts is free to the public, including film previews at the Nightlight, live music at Jilly’s Music Room, Musica and Uncorked Wine Bar, as well as visual art displayed at Summit Art Space.

Fetter said the expansion of the festival will bring people to the quirky venues, and she hopes it’ll create longtime patrons.

“It’s going against art with a capital A, and making art for everyone by everyone,” Fetter said.

Experimental, political and personal pieces create a melting pot of work. Each Northeast Ohio artist shares a unique story with their individual offerings. High Art’s purpose is twofold: it exists to award local artist for their work and create exposure for those who may otherwise have gone unnoticed in Akron.

“People don’t always know how many artists are living in their community because they don’t go out to see their work,” said Mellissa Redman, the festival’s visual arts coordinator.  

One such artist is Nikki Bartel, a craftswoman from Barberton. Her work displayed at Summit Art Space is an interactive piece that explores her relationship with her family. Bartel encourages people to give or take notes or trinkets depending on their mood. The intent of the communal offering is to bring community and connectivity to the viewers of her work.

“Everything I paint is a piece of me, and everything I create is a piece of me,” Bartel said.

As an expression of self, art is a necessarily vulnerable pursuit. Bartel understands this, and wants to move people. At the end of the day, she says that’s what defines her success.

Entering the Akron Art Prize Contest is a step “to acknowledge myself more, to validate. I am an artist. I am not just the mom or just the wife.”

The High Arts Festival is more than a contest with a cash prize, it’s a celebration of Akron’s culture and the artists residing in the community.

“Making art is a lonely process,” Redman says, “and it is nice to find other like minded people and be able to talk to them about your ideas.

Full details and exact performance times are at or on Facebook, Guests are encouraged to share High Arts experiences on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook using #highartsfest17.


Taylor Patterson is a Kent State journalism student who writes sappy poetry and hugs too many trees.