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Crosby Festival of the Arts marks 50th anniversary

  • FEA-crosby21-Randy-Kuntz

    Randy Kuntz heats glass as he works to make a glass shorebird at the Artist Village of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • FEA-crosby21-heated-glass

    Randy Kuntz heats glass as he works to make a glass shorebird at the Artist Village of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
    Buy This Image

  • FEA-crosby21-vase

    Randy Kuntz holds a nearly finished glass vase he made.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
    Buy This Image

FEA-crosby21-Randy-Kuntz

Randy Kuntz heats glass as he works to make a glass shorebird at the Artist Village of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Some people fret about turning 50, but not the Crosby Festival of the Arts.

Even as it reaches the half-century mark, Toledo’s signature art fair is far from over the hill.

The Crosby Festival will ring in its fifth decade in style Friday when the Toledo Botanical Garden hosts a preview gala from 6 to 10 p.m., followed by a “Garden After Dark” after-party from 10 to 1 a.m., where there will be fire-breathers, circus acts, balloons, more than 700 cupcakes and general merriment.

Located at 5403 Elmer Dr., the botanical garden itself is also turning 50 this year, which means there’s double the cause for celebration.

“People are coming from all over to celebrate the 50th and be here,” said Matt Killam, marketing director at the Toledo Botanical Garden and chairman of the event.

While tickets to the preview gala are a steep $75, it will cost $15 to attend Garden After Dark alone and only $8 per day to attend the Crosby Festival proper, which will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 to 4 on Sunday.

IF YOU GO

What: 50th Crosby Festival of the Arts

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Toledo Botanical Garden, 5403 Elmer Dr.

Cost: General admission is $7 in advance, $8 weekend of event; free for children and garden members.

Special events: A preview gala is from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday; tickets are $75. Garden After Dark follows, 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $15 (free for preview gala attendees).

Information: 419-536-5566 or visit toledogarden.org/​crosby-festival-of-the-arts-2015. Note that the Bancroft Street entrance to the garden will be closed.

Mr. Killam expects 700-800 people to show up for the preview events and another 15,000 to 20,000 over the weekend.

In total, these events will generate an expected net revenue of just under $200,000 to help support the nonprofit Toledo Botanical Garden, which depends on donations, fund-raisers and volunteers to stay afloat. Three hundred volunteers will be on hand this weekend to set up, strike down, and otherwise keep things running.

Right now, organizers are making a big push to sell more tickets, said Karen Ranney Wolkins, executive director of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

“We count on the community to come out and be supportive,” said Ms. Ranney Wolkins ­— and of course, she added, they’re hoping for cooperation from Toledo’s famously fickle weather.

The event’s organizers have given the Crosby Festival a makeover in honor of its 50-year milestone. An expanded set of food vendors will offer a smorgasbord of options for attendees, and the band Distant Cousinz will perform. A startup, Glass City Pedicabs, will offer rides for visitors who want to tour the gardens. And the children’s tent will offer interactive programs run by in-house educators, as well as the usual arts and crafts.

FEA-crosby21-heated-glass

Randy Kuntz heats glass as he works to make a glass shorebird at the Artist Village of the Toledo Botanical Garden.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

"People can expect what they love, but every year we try to make improvements and get new things," said Gretchen DeBacker, president of the Toledo Botanical Garden board.

Other birthdays will coincide with those of the Garden and the Crosby Festival: years and even decades of attendance for veteran artists who return to the fair annually to sell their work.

"We have people coming back after 35 years, so we must be doing something right," said Killam. He added: "The relationship we have with our artists sets us apart."

Tom Marino has been selling ceramics at the Crosby Festival for 37 years, which makes him this year's longest-participating member.

As a member of the Toledo Potters' Guild, he actually throws pots in the garden's "artist village," a smattering of sheds and studios housed within the complex. One of the two houses the potters use belonged to the Crosby property and was converted into a studio; that means Marino doesn't have to walk more than a mile to get from his workplace to his booth.

Other returning artists like Bernard Blekfeld come from far away and depend on favorable weather and a receptive audience to support their livelihood. Blekfeld, who is based in Orlando, Fla., has been showing up at Crosby Festival since the early 1990s.

FEA-crosby21-vase

Randy Kuntz holds a nearly finished glass vase he made.

The Blade/Andy Morrison
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Weather, changes in disposable income, the vagaries of public taste — all of these make it a gamble to come to the festival. "Everybody has to figure out where their market is,"  Blekfeld said.

"Now a lot of the national shows have turned regional," he added, noting a general decline in sales at art fairs since the recession and artists' resulting reluctance to travel from afar.

In Toledo he has found hospitality; here he stays with a friend who has volunteered at the Toledo Botanical Garden in years past. "After doing shows for 30 years you get to know people," Blekfeld explained.

Glassblower Randy Kuntz, a Toledo native who started showing at Crosby 12 years ago, puts up friends he's made over the years. This year six artists showing at Crosby are staying with him; Saturday night he's throwing a party for old friends he often stays with when he 's on the road.

Informal arrangements like these help Crosby artists defray costs. They have to pay fees amounting to hundreds of dollars to apply and to get booth space at the festival, in addition to the costs of travel for those from out of town.

Artists are selected for the Crosby Festival by a jury of eight credentialed art critics. About half of the roughly 500 artists who apply are selected to set up shop at the festival, in one of 10 mediums: ceramics, fiber, glass, graphics, jewelry, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture and wood.

For Killam, the diverse offerings distinguish Crosby. "I took this job because I grew up loving this festival," said Killam. "I still get excited. There's just a sea of white tents and every tent has something special inside."

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