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Big crowds expected as Columbus Arts Festival returns for first time since 2019

An overhead view of the Columbus Arts Festival in downtown Columbus.
Andy Spessard Photography
Columbus Arts Festival

For the first time in three years, hundreds of thousands of people will head downtown this weekend for the Columbus Arts Festival in what organizers hope is a return to normalcy.

“I’m emotional right now,” said Jami Goldstein with the Greater Columbus Arts Council, which hosts the festival. She laughs as she says “it felt so good” to meet with the organizing committee this week for the final time before the festival begins Friday.

“Even if it rains a little bit, I don’t think we’re going to care because we’re just so happy to be able to be back together and do this free festival for the Columbus community,” said Goldstein.

This weekend’s event will be the first since 2019. The cancellation of the 2020 arts festival came to no one’s surprise, as most of the country and world were shutting down in the initial weeks of social distancing and “flattening the curve.” But the arts council calling off the 2021 event wasn’t as clear-cut and likely left a lot of money on the table at a time when many arts organizations were still struggling.

“We are into this period where we’re still living with this virus, but the vaccination rate is higher and people are generally safer in their immune system,” Goldstein said.

More: Meet WOSU personalities at the Columbus Arts Festival

The arts festival is a private event supported largely by corporate sponsorships, alcohol sales and vendor booth fees. It’s organized by the Greater Columbus Arts Council, a granting organization that Goldstein said saw revenue from a local hotel bed tax and a ticket tax “drop to zero” early in the pandemic. She said it’s since largely recovered.

The festival, launched in 1962, is celebrating its 60th year this year, even though this is only the 58th festival because of recent cancellations. The first event, called the “Downtown Festival of the Arts,” was held on the Statehouse lawn. It moved to the newly-constructed Scioto Mile in 2012.

This year’s festival runs Friday through Sunday with more than 200 vendors selected from nearly 600 applications. Ohio will be represented by more than 40 artists this year, with 28 of them coming from Central Ohio. Thirty-four states will be represented, as well as the province of Ontario.

Stop by the WOSU booth at the Columbus Arts Festival to meet your favorite on-air personalities!