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'Accessible' art looming over horizon

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

For almost a decade, the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival has offered the best of the region in virtually all artistic mediums.

Additionally, this marks the first official partnership year between the Yeiser Art Center and the two-day festival, May 19-20.

The art gallery's larger stake in the festival hints at further opportunity for local artists looming just over the horizon.

Executive Director Stacey Reason said -- along with the festival's goal of supporting about 70 visiting local and regional artists -- the Yeiser aspires to prove "art is for everyone."

"That's the whole premise the festival is set on," Reason said. "Approachability, interaction, education, experience -- those are our pillars."

"By having more experience and opportunities, art will start to feel more accessible."

Although 2017 is a "transition year" for the Yeiser at the festival, Reason said ideas could include possible installation and streetscape art projects featuring wider collaboration among local artists.

Such endeavors could greet Lower Town visitors not only during the festival, but year-round.

Just one goal, she added, along with showing "anyone can buy or own art."

"I think there's a stigma that buying art is exclusive -- that you have to know something about the work or artist in order to own it," she said.

"I want to break that stereotype. If you see art you like, you should buy it. It's really as simple as that."

"Buying art ... brings joy to your life, creates memories and conversation, and money spent supports an important creative industry with major economic impact."

Those who attend the Lower Town Festival will find many affordable opportunities for accomplishing just that.

"It's (also) an opportunity where you can buy the art directly from the artist," she said. "All the things that come along with that -- learning more about the artist themselves, understanding their process -- those are added gems."

Ceramics artist David Johnson of Memphis, Tennessee, said he's always lived inland, so it's odd his pottery displayed at the festival this year will feature nautical themes.

But it reflects Paducah's rivertown hospitality just fine.

"I'd never heard of Paducah before, but the town is (committed) to its art," said Johnson, in his second year at the festival. "Everyone there seems open and receptive to the different types of art offered."

Meanwhile, regional visitors can carry a memory of the Lower Town Festival with jewelry artist Robin Chard's garden rings.

Through a process called lost wax-casting -- where Chard melts twigs in silver -- she hopes they can also take a piece of nature as well.

"I want them to carry around a little piece of the outside, whether they're in the office or wherever they go," said Chard, who adorns the silver with "miniature landscapes" featuring gemstones, leaves and blooms.

Although she hails from an arts-dominated Louisville community, for her there's nothing quite like the artistically charged fervor of small-town, cheerful Paducah.

"It's a lovely festival where everyone is friendly," she said. "Some festivals end up disorganized, but the Lower Town Festival isn't like that. It's very well-run."

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