Arts make Marquette a cultural destination, by Nikke Nason

Summers may be short in the Upper Peninsula but Marquette area arts organizations have found a way to keep them active for more than fifty years. This summer marks several anniversaries for area arts organizations.
With Art on the Rocks celebrating its fiftieth year, Hiawatha Music Festival celebrating its thirtieth, Lake Superior Theatre in its tenth and Marquette Area Blues Festival in the fifth year, summers in Marquette are not just about lying around on the beaches. These festivals and organizations bring the arts outdoors, attracting tourists and locals alike to several days of visual arts, music and theatrical performances.
This summer enjoy the fiftieth annual Art On The Rocks outdoor art fair at Presque Isle Park, a Marquette tradition since 1958. Located in a beautiful wooded area on the shore of Lake Superior this event is held every year on the last full weekend of July—this year on July 26 and 27. An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 visitors attend this two-day event, where 175 artists from around the country present high quality fine arts and crafts. Set-up against beautiful Lake Superior makes this art show an extra special event.
Art on the Rocks has twice been named in Sunshine Artists magazine as one of the top 200 shows in the country. Air-conditioned shuttle buses from nearby parking areas, food from a local eatery and entertainment make the festival a convenient and pleasurable family experience. A free Pebble Corner crafts area for kids, artist demonstrations and musical entertainment make it much more than a shopping trip. Art on the Rocks has evolved from its first show started by artist Anita Meyland located on the rocks next to the Father Marquette statue in downtown Marquette. Visit www.artontherocks.org for details.
Hiawatha Music Festival began in 1979 in the small community of Champion. Now, approximately 3,500 people from throughout the upper Midwest—and from as far away as both coasts—attend the festival each year at Marquette’s Tourist Park. The Hiawatha Festival is the only event of this size and scope in the Upper Peninsula. Without Hiawatha, local performers and fans would have to travel between four and six hours to the nearest festivals of its size and type. Each year’s event features traditional music styles that include bluegrass, old-time, Cajun, Celtic, acoustic blues and folk—including singer/songwriters—and dance. Mainstage acts include nationally known performers as well as regional and local favorites.
Hiawatha also has special areas for children and teens with organized activities and performances designed for those age groups. The festival is held the next-to-last full weekend in July—this year from July 18 through 20. Hiawatha is filled with campsites, food vendors, artist vendors, music and more. Walk around the festival once and you will come across dozens of musicians jamming together in campsites, on stage, in the woods and around a picnic table. The feel of Hiawatha is sometimes more than just music—it’s a community of people coming together to hear music, make music, and enjoy the beautiful backdrop of Marquette. Visit www.hiawathamusic.org for details.
Located along the shores of Lake Superior in the Frazier Yacht Yard in Downtown Marquette, Lake Superior Theatre, Inc. is celebrating its tenth season. It began as a joint effort with Northern Michigan University and the City of Marquette during the Sesquicentennial Year of 1999. Shelley Russell, a theater professor at Northern Michigan University, was approached by the City of Marquette to write a historical musical, Beacon on the Rock, for the city’s Sesquicentennial Celebration.
Lake Superior Theatre was born from that collaboration and has been working every summer since toward its mission of presenting historical theatre in a comfortable, unique setting. The venue for these summer productions is the Fraziers’ Lake Superior Yacht Yard, which in the winter months actually serves as a working boathouse and in the summer is transformed into a theater.
Lake Superior Theatre has received several awards from organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Historical Society, Michigan Humanities Council, Michigan Association of Community Arts Agencies and Michigan Cool Cities.
This summer, Lake Superior Theatre will present four productions from July 9 through August 24. Beacon on the Rock returns onstage rewritten by playwright Shelley Russell. Beacon will see the return of several original cast members and stars NMU professor Paul Truckey, who was seen on Broadway and across the country in Les Miserables for eight years. Escanaba in Love by Jeff Daniels (the prequel to Escanaba in da’ Moonlight), Treasure Island adapted by Orion Couling, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will complete the showbill. Visit www.lakesuperiortheatre.com or call 227-7625 for details. Thousands of locals and visitors alike are treated to wonderful performances and enjoy the sunset views of Lake Superior in Marquette’s Lower Harbor every summer.
Marquette Area Blues Festival is marking its fifth anniversary in 2008. The festival marks the end of the summer but still brings the heat every Labor Day Weekend (August 30 and 31). Located in Ellwood Mattson Lower Harbor Park, The Marquette Area Blues Society is continuing the trend of bringing the best blues artists in the world to Marquette. This year’s headliners for the Marquette Area Blues Fest, have been selected by the Blues Foundation as the best of the best in the blues.
With local food vendors and fabulous entertainment, this festival attracts more and more people each year. Artists who’ve performed all over the United States comment on what a great event it is. This is a must-see for blues fans and music fans. The arts community of Marquette is proud to see this event in its fifth year and can’t wait to see it continue to grow. Visit www.marquetteareabluessociety.com for details.
Congratulations to the previous arts organizations and the various other arts events and organizations that occur every summer. A summer arts calendar is produced by the City of Marquette Arts and Culture Center located in the Lower Level of Peter White Public Library or at www.mqtcty.org
Some other events not to miss include Pine Mountain Music Festival, MACC Youth Theatre, DeVos Art Museum, Forest Roberts Theatre Blackbox Productions, free Marquette City Band concerts at Presque Isle, International Food Festival, Seafood Festival and many more. Finding the time to hit the beach can sometimes be difficult.
—Nikke Nason

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