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New festival comes to town thanks to Art Guild

By Natasha Clark

Assistant Managing Editor

HAMPDEN The Hampden Art Guild is taking their annual art exhibit to a higher plateau. This year the event has advanced into The Big H Hampden Festival of the Arts. This two-day art festival promises artwork and floral exhibits, food, music, arts and crafts and more.

Scheduled for Sept. 22-23, members of the Guild feel like its been a longtime in the making. The organization has existed for 15 years. Each year it has been customary to host a modest exhibition which was ordinarily hosted at Town Hall. This years blow out will spread across Main Street utilizing the Town Hall, Academy Hall, the Historical Society Museum, Federated Community Church and even outdoor activities under a tent.

Guild member Patricia Pomeroy said there are numerous reasons why expanding the event has been necessary.

"The big reason was that there was so much talent in this little town," she shared. As others begin to give their input and donate their time, Pomeroy said things just kept getting bigger. "We started talking about who does what and one of our arts [Steve W. Andwood] happens to be a musician. One of the gentleman from Federated Community Church said 'why don't you let us do some food.'"

The Guild has made an effort to include as many Hampden residents as possible. There will be art contributions from Minnechaug Regional High School and Wilbraham Monson Academy students on display at Town Hall; adult artwork will be displayed at Academy Hall, the Hampden Lions club will be cooking hot dogs and hamburgers; music performances will take place inside of the Federated Community Church which will also host a gourmet pancake breakfast; the Garden Club will have floral arrangements; local authors will be onsite for booksignings and youth from the town's theater guild will perform and much more.

Andwood has been a member of the Guild for five years and he is relishing the idea of adding music to the mix. A builder by trade, Andwood has been participating in musical jam sessions with Lauren Comstock, the other half of their duo called Comand, since 1973. He said the bands were happy to volunteer to play at the festival.

"I just knew some people and asked a couple of guys that I've seen out playing," Andwood explained.

The musical line-up includes Dick Chase who plays traditional Irish music, Randy Pascal whose sound is similar to Irish folk, TJ Dwyer plays rock and blues, Comand is described as classic rock, and Andwood calls Dana Vicalvi "good time rock 'n' roll."

The festival will also have a memorial art exhibit titled "Legacy of Beauty" for Laura Chaffin and Chris Bardoski, former members of the Guild. An exhibit in their honor will be on display at the Hampden Public Library for one month.

Guild Chair Dorothy Fritts reminisced about the founding of the organization, she was one of its original members. She recalled when they began recruiting members and hosting exhibits at Laughing Brook, the library, East Longmeadow's Little Red School House and Academy Hall. Fritts said they even use to host events at the Old First Church in downtown Springfield. She is looking forward to having the town participate in the festivities.

"I think it's going to be exciting," Fritts said. "This is kind of big for the town. We have so many people involved."

The Hampden Arts Guild is a nonprofit organization that has recently benefited from a $750 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to help finance the event.

"And we have actually got some donations from local entrepreneurs," Pomeroy stated, adding that she hopes the event encourages hampden youth to take the reins of the Guild in the future. "[This is something] to get the town involved. Art is always one of the first programs that is cut out of a school program. Art and music. We need to do something to get the younger kids involved so it continues."

Fritts said any Hampden resident over age 16 is welcome to join the Guild.

"I'm hoping for a huge turnout," Andwood added. "Come one, come all. This is our first monster event so hopefully it will go off without a hitch."

The Big H will take place Sept. 22-23 between 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on both days.