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Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival
The festival is produced by the Greater Reston Arts Center. In addition to 200-plus exhibiting artists, the festival will include live music and other performance art events co-sponsored by the Reston Community Center. Activities also include the Children’s Art Tent and an Opening Night Party on Friday, this year in the Reston Town Center Pavilion.
Where: Reston Town Center, Reston Parkway
When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Admission: Free. Discount coupons for Reston Town Center restaurants available for donations.
For information: www.northernvirginiafineartsfestival.org or 703-471-9242.

In its 21st year, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, one of the country’s top-rated and largest outdoor arts festivals, is continuing to grow by adding another day.

The popular festival, which annually attracts more than 50,000 visitors from across the region, now will be three days — May 18 through May 20 — opening tonight with approximately 175 of its more than 200 contemporary artists exhibiting between 5 and 8 p.m.

At the same time, in another new change, the always-upscale opening night party — sponsored by Fidelity Investments and emceed by ABC7/WJLA-TV reporter Jummy Olabanji — will take place from 6:30 to 10 p.m. in a new location, the nearby Town Center Pavilion, in the heart of Reston Town Center.

The party, in another first, will welcome walk-in attendees (tickets are $100). In addition to meeting festival artists in a vibrant party venue, the artful evening will feature live music, visual art performances, a silent auction, savory food and signature cocktails.

All party guests will receive a coupon good for 10 percent off one piece of artwork purchased from a participating festival artist.

The festival, produced by the Greater Reston Arts Center, has not only put GRACE on the region’s map, but more importantly, it financially supports its programs. In recent years, the festival’s net income — from corporate sponsors, individual contributors and artist participation fees — accounts for about 40 percent of GRACE’s annual budget of $520,000.

The programs it supports include year-round exhibitions, lectures, educational programs for adults and children, a children’s summer art program, and its Art in Schools program, which currently serves about 50 schools and reaches 22,000 Northern Virginia schoolchildren each year.

Featuring artists in 18 different media categories, the festival earned its ranking as one of the top outdoor festivals in the country, in part because it is a highly competitive juried show. The 200-plus participating artists were selected by jurors who are all experts in their fields, from approximately 900 applicants from across the U.S. and Canada.

Of the artists selected, 39 are new participants, 50 represent the mid-Atlantic region, and the farthest traveling artist is glass artist Giampietro Filippetti from Ontario, Canada.

The 2012 jurors include independent curator and consultant Diane Camber, who served as director and chief curator at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami, Fla., from 1980 to 2007; curator Joanna Sikes, who served as a lecturer in museum studies at the University of Washington and director and chief curator of collection and exhibits at Seattle Tacoma International Airport; and Duane Reed, owner and founder of the Duane Reed Gallery in St. Louis, Mo.

Different than the jurors are judges who visit each artist on the first day of the festival and then select the 10 winners of the festival’s Awards of Excellence in Contemporary Art. Awardees receive cash prizes and entry into the following year’s festival.

The 2012 judges include Susan Behrends Frank, associate curator for research at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and a specialist in modern European and American art; Foon Sham, a sculptor and professor at the University of Maryland, College Park; and Philippa Hughes, founder of the Pink Line Project, an online calendar of “all things cool and creative in D.C.,” and writer of a blog that highlights the best of D.C.'s creative scene.

Performance art, which was added to the festival mix a few years ago, will feature The International Contemporary Ensemble. Presented by Reston Community Center in collaboration with D.C.’s Atlas Performing Arts Center, ICE will make its Northern Virginia debut at the festival and will perform a variety of new pieces designed specifically for the festival.

One will be “Reston Bells,” which will feature ICE and Reston’s own Trinity Ringers, who will circulate throughout the area playing their handbells, plus audience cell phones. Equal parts concert piece, installation and happening, “Reston Bells” is adapted from Nathan Davis’ “Bells” cycle, which premiered at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall in New York City.

“Percussion Park,” another featured ICE work, will make use of the many trees in Reston Town Center’s Presidents Park, across from the Hyatt Hotel. By hanging a variety of wooden, metal and drum instruments from tree branches by rope, ICE percussionists will create a unique audio-visual environment. Spectators will be invited to don headphones (also hanging from the tree branches), which are connected to a directly amplified tree in the park. In addition, numerous other exotic instruments will be struck from their suspended positions in interpretations involving motoric rhythms, sonic textures and subtle percussions.

Other ICE performances will take place at the GRACE Gallery on Market Street, South Market Promenade, Town Square Park and the Bell Tower near the Pavilion. Details are available in the free brochure/map that will be available at the festival.

In addition, festival entertainment will include a musical lineup, featuring, among others, folk singer Dulcie Taylor, Songwriters Association of Washington President Jean Bayou, rock musician Margot MacDonald and folk contemporary duo Chatham Street.

Making visual art an integral part of children’s life experience has always been important to the GRACE mission. In the festival’s Children’s Art Tent, youngsters will get a taste of the many programs offered by GRACE for their age group.

At this year’s festival, it’s “All About Art & Music in Harmony” in the Children’s Art Tent. The 2012 art activities include: Explore More! Art Buckets, GRACE Art Artist Trading Cards, Summer Art Camp Musical Monsters, Festival Paper Bag Hats, and Scout Badge Program Musical Instruments. Children may also have some artistic fun at the Community Mural and Chalk Walk.

The musical theme continues at two other child-oriented festival offerings: The Listening Tent and Red Balloon area.

In The Listening Tent, children with no prior musical experience will be able to create and perform original compositions. They will listen to one another, to themselves and to the musicians of ICE, and have the musicians of ICE listen to them. Inspired by a decade of explorations with students, ICE launched the Listening Room in 2010 and has brought the program to public schools in New York, Chicago, Berlin, Paris and Cologne, Germany.

In the Red Balloon area, children of all ages will engage with music, sound and the moving image in collaboration with ICE musicians and Albert Lamorisse’s classic short film “The Red Balloon.” Select images from the Academy Award-winning film will trigger audience participation as they ring bells, stamp feet, and assist ICE in creating the sound score for the film.

Have questions? Look for one of the festival’s hundreds of volunteers. All will be wearing T-shirts with this year’s official poster image, a pastel/drawing “The Dreamer” by 2012 Poster Artist James Michael Nemnich (Booth 914) on the front, and “volunteer” printed on the back. Posters and T-shirts with Nemnich’s image also will be for sale at the festival, and another original Nemnich pastel/drawing will be raffled at the festival.

Also, discount coupons for Reston Town Center restaurants will be available for donations.

A complete listing of festival activities, opening night party details and more are listed at www.northernvirginiafineartsfestival.org.