Bel Esprit, a happening of coincidence
Mill City Festival moves to Victory Park; city double books two parks
By Heidi Masek firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mill City Festival, a reincarnation of Riverfest, is back this year under the umbrella of Bel Esprit, a name that Mill City and Manchester Artists Association adopted to cover a weekend of cultural events. Turns out they will have a lot of cultural company this weekend even if the timing is accidental.
MAA artist Ann Trainer Domingue came up with the name Bel Esprit. “It’s a French word meaning cultivated, highly intelligent person,” said Art in the Park organizer Diane De Bonneville.
The most notable difference other than the name is that Mill City Festival will be held at Victory Park rather than Arms Park, said Mill City Festival director Jane Beaulieu.
“The setting down at Arms Park is really one big parking lot ... the visual appearance is not inviting,” Beaulieu said. Victory Park offers green space near downtown shops and restaurants and proximity to the Art in the Park show at Veterans Park. Mill City admission is free this year. Beaulieau is raising money for costs through vendor fees and a CIP grant.
The free trolley, missing last year, will be reinstated Saturday only, running from 10:15 a.m. until a little past 3 p.m. Cost is prohibitive to run the trolley both days and museums are open Saturday only. The trolley will stop at the parks, Millyard Museum, Square Dance Library, Amoskeag Fishways, Manchester Artists Association Gallery and Valley Cemetery, which has just been declared the city arboretum, for hayrides.
Of the Square Dance Library, Beaulieu said, “It’s unbelievable for the city of Manchester to have this resource.” The Square Dance Association is scheduled to perform Saturday at a location to be determined.
Beaulieu started organizing Mill City Festival three years ago; she wanted it to be more of a cultural festival than a carnival, as was Riverfest, which ran from 1981 until about 2000.
Mill City Festival entertainment encompasses an interesting variety, including performances by Extreme Air, New Hampshire’s national jump rope competitors. There’s a craft tent with ethnic food available and kids’ activities. The featured entertainment on Sunday is Andrea Paquin opening for Jon Nolan with bluegrass and folk music. Kids can decorate a wagon for a parade at noon Sunday. The Fishways Bug Ball is Saturday—it’s a chance to learn all about insects.
The New Hampshire Institute of Art’s Sidewalk Artfest is also scheduled for Saturday in Victory Park, so you can watch art students compete for best chalk creation or compete yourself. “It was sort of double-booked,” Beaulieau said. Because of the ensuing compromises, Beaulieu had to ask Right to Life, one of the nonprofit groups that buys Mill City Festival booth space each year, not to come.
“Since we are the ones who have the park reserved for that day, our president made it clear to us that he didn’t want any political message attached to the event,” Lindy Forrester, student services director at NHIA, explained. The city issued licenses for both Mill City and NHIA for Victory Park Sept. 9, quite a surprise to both, Forrester said. The college is compromising by booking bluegrass for its live music, hoping it will appeal to both families and college students.
Down at Veterans Park there’s another double-booking. Teen Challenge New England, a drug rehab organization, will host Christian music groups, while Art in the Park hosts its juried art show in the same area.
This is the second year that Teen Challenge is using a live free concert to deliver its message. The concept is to let kids know they can still enjoy music without being caught up in negative lifestyles associated with some genres.
“Our main objective is to sort of bring the community together for sort of a fun day,” Eric Haddock, program developer at Teen Challenge New England, said. Six area contemporary Christian rock, rap and gospel groups will perform Saturday.
“We are a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Our main objective is to reach every addict in New Hampshire with the message of hope,” Haddock said. Teen Challenge will also offer face painting, skits and a moonwalk. They agreed to keep their heavier acts until after Art in the Park shuts down for the day.
Art in the Park will be hosting entertainment as well, including Manchester Community Music School, Queen City Ballroom and the Manchester Dance Studio on Sunday. Mayor Frank Guinta will present awards to the artists for the juried show Saturday at 1 p.m.
Finally, a long-standing tradition happening the same weekend is the Riverfest Slalom kayak race at Arms Park, hosted by Amoskeag Slalom Paddlers, on Sunday.
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