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As Coeur d'Alene's Art on the Green turns 50, meet some of the people inspired by its mission 

click to enlarge artsculture1-1-aea2158eee26124d.jpg

Doug Fagerness remembers his initial impressions of Art on the Green, the annual three-day visual and performing arts festival at Coeur d'Alene's North Idaho College.

"Here was a festival that was completely free," says Fagerness, who had come down from Careywood for the day, and couldn't get over the artwork and stage performers. "I think they had ballet that year," he recalls.

It was 1975 or '76 and Fagerness had just started as director of NIC's Head Start program, a position he'd hold for 33 years. Coeur d'Alene was a modest-but-growing tourist destination; pre-dating the Coeur d'Alene Resort, the North Shore Motor Hotel had recently expanded with a seven-story tower topped by the swanky Cloud 9 restaurant. Coeur d'Alene was still a working-class town for most of the 16,000 or so inhabitants, where dominant industries were tied to natural resources. And yet it's also where seeds of a thriving arts community were beginning to take root.

After attending Art on the Green his first year in town, Fagerness knew he wanted to be a part of the event, so the following year he arrived in full clown costume, returning annually for 13 years. Then he ran the beverage booth and helped with ArtShop classes for kids, a former weeklong arts camp especially targeting at-risk populations.

He loves the festival for what it offers all ages, especially kids, says Fagerness. "Coming and seeing the wonder and things put together in ways [kids] haven't seen before is a trigger for the creative spirit."

Although he stopped volunteering in 2008, Fagerness still attends Art on the Green, which he sees as a community-wide homecoming. This year, the festival celebrates 50 years with 190 artist booths, live music on two stages and plenty of food options, all kicking off with a blessing from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe Friday morning at 11 am.

Formerly a Coeur d'Alene resident, Christine Marie Larsen will be making the trek from Seattle with her son, who loves the sandcastle, she says. Larsen began volunteering at age 11 or 12 in the corn booth with her father, David Larsen, alongside co-founder Pat Flammia (Pat and Sue Flammia created the Citizens Council on the Arts, which produces Art on the Green).

Larsen has won the poster contest twice, participated in the juried exhibition, helped with ArtShop, and continues to volunteer with both the website and booth-selection committee. "I stay involved because it's fun," says Larsen. "It's a great opportunity for me to see friends and family over the weekend, and I appreciate the mission of the organization to create a marketplace for artists, to promote arts in the community and to support art education."

Larsen, a visual designer and illustrator, credits Art on the Green with her becoming a working creative. "I saw that there were so many ways for people to integrate and support creativity," says Larsen. "Art on the Green also exposed me to people who are passionate about their patronage of the arts and making sure everyone has access to seeing and learning about art," she says.

Yvonne Benzinger was an established commercial artist and screenprinter the late '70s when she joined Coeur d'Alene Art Association, another longtime local arts organization dating to the mid-'60s. "Over my years involved with CAA, looking through their old scrapbooks and notes," says Benzinger, "I discovered [CAA's] history with Art on the Green."

click to enlarge The festivals always offered fun for all ages, from kids to experienced artists like Harold Balazs (right).
  • The festivals always offered fun for all ages, from kids to experienced artists like Harold Balazs (right).

First she helped with CAA's "clothesline" art sale, then printed T-shirts from the annual poster design, working with veteran Art on the Green organizer Allen Dodge, his wife Mary Dee, and his brother Mike Dodge, who collectively took over t-shirt duties for many years.

Benzinger's been involved ever since, winning the first poster contest in 1991, then winning again in 1996 and 2003. She has also served as a juror and continues to volunteer.

Benzinger never tires of what Art on the Green offers: "The glorious color and art of which there's more and better every year!" She loves the people, music, dancers, performers, kids making art, and volunteers, she says, as well as new ventures every year, like hands-on classes during the festival.

And, she says, even though it's a small thing, her personal favorite is wearing the volunteer badge that entitles her to a free ice cream cone. "What more could I ask!" ♦

Art on the Green • Fri, Aug. 3, noon-7:30 pm; Sat, Aug. 4, 10 am-7:30 pm; Sun, Aug. 5, 10 am-5 pm • Free • North Idaho College • 100 W. Garden Ave., Coeur d'Alene • artonthegreencda.com


NOTEWORTHY EVENTS IN ART ON THE GREEN HISTORY

1961-68 Coeur d'Alene Art Association formed, holding various art festivals. They also created the "clothesline" art sale.

1968-69 Pat and Sue Flammia formed Citizens Council for the Arts and produced their first two-day, mid-summer Outdoor Arts & Crafts Festival in McEuen Park.

1970 CCA's arts and crafts festival moved to North Idaho College, eventually leading to the event's new name, according to Fay Wright, who wrote Art on the Green: A Celebration of Art and Community in the West.

1972 First event poster, by printmaker Jeanne Holmberg.

1975 Art on the Green expands to three days.

1981 ArtShop, offering week-long classes, debuts and lasts until 2015.

1991 CAA member and longtime Art on the Green volunteer Yvonne Benzinger wins first poster contest.

1998 Scott Dodson's sandcastles debut, remaining a staple attraction.

2011 Dennis Young and Jeff Harris mesmerized audiences by firing pottery onsite using the "raku" technique. Young passed away, but Harris is still doing pottery at the fest.

2013 The 45th anniversary poster was done by Harold Balazs, an early supporter.

2018 Debbie McCulley is the featured poster artist for the 50th anniversary.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Community and Creativity"

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