The ArtsMerced! Festival opens today with a new name and activities for Mercedians and visitors alike.
Held along Main Street from M to N streets and N street between Main and 18th streets, the festival is presented by the Merced County Arts Council.
The festival will offer 11 fine arts and crafts vendors selling jewelry, carvings, wooden bowls, paintings, ceramics and more.
In its 17th year, the onetime Big Valley Arts and Culture Festival has partnered with UC Merced during the university's Family Weekend.
The council was told by UC there were about 300 families registered for the weekend, according to Megan Miller, program director for the council. Every year, Merced's downtown swells to 3,000 to 4,000 people attending the festival alone, she said.
The partnership with UC Merced gives a chance for the council to "coordinate and take advantage of the fact we have the opportunity to show off things that many people don't know about Merced," said Pope Lawrence, who has a booth that features wooden bowls for sale.
The festival will offer something new to Mercedians this year. "Arts Alive" runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and local artists can create a piece of artwork from scratch. Artists should bring their own materials, and the artwork can be a painting, sculpture, performance pieces, short film, photography -- any creation that can win $500 for first place, according to Alan Schoff. He came up with the idea to introduce the art event to Merced. The activity mimics a similar one in Indianapolis, he said.
"First of all, it levels the playing field as well as the time that artists get to work," said Schoff, who has lived in Merced for four years. "It engages the public who are fascinated with what artists really do. And to see artists working in their process."
Miller said about 15 to 20 participants will take part in "Arts Alive."
Lawrence, who has sponsored a booth at the festival for the past six or seven years, sells his wooden bowls for $25 to $400. Last year, he made about $850.
"I was surprised last year when we were in the middle of recessive times and we had great attendance," he said. He added that there's a lot going on along Main Street.
"We want to make sure we are doing our bit to promote Merced, the arts and downtown," he said. "Not necessarily in that order, but we want all of the arts for all of the people."
The exclamation point in ArtsMerced! shows the energy that event organizers intend to release all day long in downtown Merced.
Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.