EXCLUSIVE: The Current takes you behind the scenes at the Marblehead Arts Festival

With just hours to go before the Marblehead Festival of Arts officically kicks off Saturday, July 1, hundreds of volunteers were scrambling around town building stages, hanging art, setting up booths and juggling last-minute details.

With thousands of visitors, 400 volunteers, nearly 900 pieces of art and dozens of live performances, the Festival is a massive endeavor every year. Ever wonder what it’s like to pull it all together, especially as the clock ticks down to the first events? The Marblehead Current was granted exclusive access to go behind the scenes in the days and hours leading up to the Festival.

Volunteers build the stage for the Festival’s Crocker Park concerts. CURRENT PHOTOS / LEIGH BLANDER

“These are the bewitching hours,” laughed Jodi-Tatiana Charles, the Festival’s executive director who spent the last few days before July 1 helping set up exhibits, meeting with the police and fire chiefs to review safety plans, speaking with merchandise reps and editing the 100+-page program guide. She also did an interview with iHeartRadio along with volunteer Brian Wheeler promoting the Crocker Park concerts.

Oh, and she brought hundreds of empty bottles to the transfer station the morning after the Festival’s champagne reception at Fort Sewall.

Festival Executive Director Jodi-Tatiana Charles (right) works with Kirsten Bassion and Ted Tobey before hanging an exhibit at St. Michael’s Church.

“I’ve been getting about four-and-a-half-hours of sleep a night,” she said. “I pulled an all-nighter Saturday night.” 

Festival planning happens year-round, organizers say. For Wheeler, who oversees all the live performances, the pace picks up in January. “Little by little, I put together a canvas to see which acts should go where,” he said.  

He and about 25 other volunteers spent all day Friday, June 30, assembling the 20’X30’ stage at Crocker Park, along with scaffolding for speakers and poles for lighting. Wheeler has been involved with the Festival since 1975.

High above Marblehead, Bill Smalley was guiding a handful of volunteers in the attic of Abbot Hall as they carried several large flats to an elevator and down to the main hall, where they’ll display about 80 pieces of art. Smalley, who is the Festival’s facilities director, has been volunteering with the event since 1976.

Bill Smalley (far left) guides volunteers as they bring several large flats down from the Abbot Hall attic for the Festival.

“It’s always very hectic these last few days,” he said. “We don’t get a rehearsal. We go live Saturday morning. But we know how to put the fires out.”

 Kirsten Bassion sits on her dining room floor to organize and label  90+ ribbons for every winner in the Marblehead Festival of Arts.

Artist Kirsten Bassion of Marblehead is in charge of the 11 art exhibits at six locations, along with several programs.

“This has been bonkers,” she said with a good-natured smile. “These are 12-14 hour days. There are a lot of things to juggle. Just toss me another ball.”

Bassion, who owns The Clay School in Beverly, oversees dozens of volunteers and spent final days before the Festival hanging shows, installing lights in exhibit spaces and preparing to emcee the awards ceremony at Abbot Hall on June 30, where she will hand out 90+ awards. On the Tuesday before the Festival, she sat cross-legged on her dining room floor, coordinating all the winners’ ribbons. 

Lindsey Feinswog and Sylvia Kane were huddled over their laptops in Feinswog’s kitchen, with her 140-pound Newfoundland, Kevin, sprawled nearby. The women are the Festival’s directors of events and oversee the following: Hidden Orbs, 5K Run/Walk, Chalk This Way, Kite Festival, Sand Sculptures, Children’s Festival, Art on the Avenue, Model Boat Building, Redd’s Pond Regatta and the Street Festival.

Sylvia Kane (left) and Lindsey Feinswog oversaw all the Festival programs, including the new 5K.

“Each event has its own chair and support staff,” Kane pointed out. She and Feinswog spent the last few days making Costo runs (to buy water for the 5K), coordinating last-minute details and making sure all ordered items, like port-a-potties, sound systems, etc., were being delivered on time.

“I never knew how much work it is,” said Feinswog, who’s been attending the Festival for years. “It’s a massive undertaking, a massive festival. And it’s run by volunteers. Without community members making it happen, events like this will go away.”

Stay with the Marblehead Current, the Festival’s Presenting Media Sponsor, for complete coverage.  Learn more about the Festival at MarbleheadFestival.org.

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