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Article Published April 17, 2019
Shoreline Arts Fest Seeking Volunteers, Performers
Pem McNerney, Living Editor

The second Guilford Performing Arts Festival, in the works and scheduled for September, has organizers applying lessons learned and information gathered during the last biennial celebration in 2017. The last festival offered more than 40 concerts, plays, and recitals in 17 venues, most of them free, with more than 300 performers, attracting about 3,600 attendees.

Can They Top That?

“Well, yes,” says Peter Hawes, vice chairman and head of programming for the festival. “Somehow we pulled off a lot in a short period of time last time. This year we have had two years to plan. So, yes, you bet.”

Already, more than 35 applications to participate have come in from performing artists from all over the east coast. A wide variety of performers have applied or expressed an interest in participating, from local solo singer-songwriters to nationally known troupes. The goal is to put on something that feels like a cross between the renowned month-long Edinborough Art Festival in Scotland and Charleston’s lively Spoleto Festival, which takes place over several weeks, in Guilford—albeit on a smaller scale—over a long weekend in September with the support of an army of volunteers and performers from across the shoreline, which they are in the progress of recruiting. General applications for festival performers close on Friday, May 31. The festival itself takes place Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 26 through 29, with the Guilford Green serving as the celebration hub for performances all around town at a variety of venues.

“We expect to make selections and start notifying people in mid-June. We’ll announce performers starting around then and through summer as they’re confirmed. We expect to have the full festival schedule set during the summer,” says Hawes.

The search for volunteers is ongoing, and is a key part of pulling the festival together. The number and quality of volunteers has a direct effect on the ability of organizers to pull off something amazing for the shoreline.

“So if there’s a challenge to this, other than pulling off something like this size and this scope, it’s also managing ambitions and aspirations and being realistic about not biting off more than we can chew,” says Hawes.

The hope is that the biennial festival will grow deliberately over a period of many years, maintaining the high quality of the performances so that attendees know they’ll be going to see something great, if it’s been accepted into the festival.

Diversity of Arts, People

Another challenge this year is to make sure that the festival not only represents local talent and acts known to the organizers, but that the offerings also reflect broad diversity on several fronts.

“We want to represent the entire region and introduce people to things they are familiar with and things they are not familiar with,” he says. “We want to be as conscious as we can about representing and including people of a wide range of artistic genres, including music, theater, and dance. From jug bands to symphony orchestras. From one-person storytelling to a staged cabaret piece. From poetry to comedy. From local youth-oriented ballet schools to well recognized contemporary dance companies.”

And diversity within the human sphere is as important.

“We want to represent the community as widely as possible,” he says. “People of color. People with differing physical abilities and challenges. People with different ideologies. We’d love to introduce people to a diversity of art forms and a diversity of people.”

Hawes says volunteers are key and the search for them is active and underway.

“The entire thing is free, so the work with the volunteers is very important,” says Hawes. “We are looking for people interested in development and fundraising, in marketing, and, as we get closer, we’ll need volunteers to help us set up and then run and then take down venues. We are looking for people who might want to organize one particular track of programming.”

The programming committee also is seeking help with expertise in specific areas of the arts to help make decisions about who is accepted.

“People with a knowledge about the arts who can help us evaluate applications, and help us make decisions on who to select would be great,” Hawes says.

Business partners who might be interested in joint marketing are being sought, along with local universities that might be interested in a partnership that could include both support and showcasing the talent the universities themselves are nurturing.

The Power to Change Lives

Hawes says he’s particularly excited about the festival’s collaboration with community entities, including the public schools in town.

There will be as many as 10 musicians, dancers, and actors from the festival who will also hold residencies, workshops, or master classes for students at the high school at no cost to the schools, during the week leading up to the festival starting Sept. 23.

“Some artists will involve students in their festival performances. We expect to finalize details, including the roster of teaching artists and their programs, by June,” he says. “The artists are being selected for their ability to introduce students to genres, subjects, and techniques they don’t typically get in the school’s curriculum, such as dance; hip-hop, gospel, and Afro-Cuban music; and in some cases the ability to perform live alongside professional artists at the top of their games.”

Some of the performers are of the caliber that they will expected to easily fill the high school’s 500-plus-seat performing arts center.

“We’re in the process of confirming the artists and can’t mention names quite yet. Some of the marquee performers will also be teaching artists, and we expect to announce who they are as soon as we’re officially contracted, which should be in the next few weeks,” he says.

And Hawes is as excited about the fact that a number of high school student music ensembles will also be participating in the festival. Organizers are also working on a program in which interested high school students can take part in production work for the festival, such as stagecraft, production assistance, and videography.

He says the vision of William Boughton, the chairman and head of fundraising, is one that resonates with the rest of the board and volunteers.

“What we bought into very strongly is putting on a performing arts festival with a social mission. We want to introduce people to different cultures, music, forms of theater, people,” Hawes says. “We can show people other people’s ways of being human and tell the stories of what it’s like to be those other people.”

From internationally known acts to the local solo performer, Hawes says the festival is being produced by people who know that the arts have the power to change lives.

“Something happens to the mind and body when encountering the arts, it can move you in a way that is unique,” he says. “We’ve seen examples where actively participating in the arts changes people, and allows people to find parts of themselves, and connect with other humans in a way that a lot of other things can’t do.”

To find out more, to donate, apply to perform, volunteer, and attend, visit To donate or to contact the organizers by mail, the address is Guilford Performing Arts Festival, 316 Little Meadow Road Guilford, CT 06437. General inquiries can also be sent via email to