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The Marginal Arts Festival returns Saturday for a week of bizarre, cutting-edge art experiences.
Courtesy of Marginal Arts Festival
The centerpiece of the Marginal Arts Festival’s 2012 parade was a giant octopus, which children carried along the route. For this year’s parade, the octopus’ frame has been reupholstered white as part of a transformation into a giant sugar skull.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Paiton (left) and Paige Wainwright practice their step moves for the group the Eagle Steppers, which performs during Vaudeville Night on March 30.
Courtesy of Lori Field
“Fine Young Cannibal” by Lori Field is part of the “Circus Pony” art show opening 6 p.m. March 28 at the Liminal gallery.
Courtesy of Forty Fingers and a Missing Tooth
The juggling act Forty Fingers and a Missing Tooth is scheduled to perform during Vaudeville Night on March 30.
MIKE ALLEN | The Roanoke Times
Marginal Arts Festival founder Brian Counihan demonstrates one of the Easter Egg masks he’s making for the festival parade on March 30.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Roanoke Marginal Arts Festival decided not to take chances this year.
That doesn't mean there won't be odd, bizarre, cutting-edge art experiences mixed into the festivities. It's the weather they don't want to gamble on.
For the past four years, the festival has tied its schedule to Mardi Gras, which meant it sometimes has taken place in the heart of winter. Founder Brian Counihan counts his blessings that the colorful and strange Marginal Arts Parade through downtown Roanoke has never been snowed out.
"We dodged a bullet every year," said Roanoke artist Ralph Eaton, another of the festival's organizers. So the artists running the festival decided to move it back a few weeks. (Eaton joked that he wished it could be held April Fool's Day.)
The lineup this year includes an appearance from the Society for Creative Anachronism, famous for wearing medieval garb and battling with rattan swords, a contest to write a novel in 48 hours, experimental poetry, experimental art, experimental theater, and workshops that might help you understand what all these experiments are getting at. "We have a lot of professional artists involved," Counihan said.
Of course there's the parade at noon March 30 and the absurdist street carnival that immediately follows. This year, the festival ends with Vaudeville Night, a performance at the June M. McBroom Theater in Community High School at 302 Campbell Ave. S.E. Themes for the festival include Easter eggs, the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, and lucha libre, the sport of Mexican professional wrestling.
Clown shoes on parade
Eaton once built floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., and has built floats for the Marginal Arts Parade starting with the "Art Rat" in 2010. Last week, he had welded together the wire frame for a giant clown shoe and started work on creating the matching shoe for the pair.
In 2012, a giant octopus was one of the parade's centerpieces. Eaton has taken the frame of the octopus and reupholstered it white. This year, it will be a giant sugar skull.
The parade, which starts at Community High School, is open to anyone who wants to participate. "Just show up with anything you want to do," Eaton said.
The festival also wants to raise awareness of about 30 art galleries, organizations and businesses in downtown Roanoke that have closed or been displaced in recent years. Counihan said the festival plans to display a sugar skull honoring each one.
Counihan, himself an artist and teacher at Community High, has created giant Easter egg masks. "We're going to play with the idea of it being Easter," he said. There will also be an unconventional Easter egg hunt that's part of the March 30 schedule (Easter falls on March 31).
More centralized fest
This year marks less participation by museums than in years past. Part of the reason is that the Marginal Arts Festival is so spontaneous. "We still haven't really worked out a way that gives institutions a year's notice," Counihan said.
The events are also less spread out. Last year, events were held on different days in downtown Roanoke, Salem and Grandin Village. Counihan sad that feedback indicated "most people wanted a central campus for the festival."
Feedback also led to the decision to create the "Lycee Marginal," a series of classes that runs March 25-28.
The classes will shed light on the ideas and principles behind some of the offbeat events, with topics such as "Experimental Writing/Publishing," "Silkscreening," "The World's Most Perfectly Formed Midget Wrestler" and "Cheese." (Full disclosure: I am a volunteer co-instructor in one of the classes.)
In a way, the festival has moved back toward its do-it-yourself grass-roots origins, but Counihan said the festival has become too large to really be considered "marginal" - that is, an event that exists only on the fringe. "We see it as more of a brand name now."
Eaton noted that he still could use some volunteer help with the new floats. Anyone wanting to volunteer can contact him through the "Marginal Arts Festival, Roanoke" page on Facebook.
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