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Artists gear up for weekend Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! festival in Willmar, Minn.

Brenna Lief of New London plays the bass guitar at the Whitney Music display at the 2010 Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! in downtown Willmar. This year's event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. (Tribune file photo by Ron Adams)

On Saturday morning, Nan Karr Kaufenberg will pack up a collection of her original block prints and set up shop in one of the tents lining Becker Avenue in downtown Willmar.

Kaufenberg, an artist from Redwood Falls, is among the dozens of artists who will be showcased this weekend at the annual Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! festival.

Vendor exhibits, street-corner concerts and activities will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Becker Avenue and Fifth Street downtown.

The event is a chance for artists and the public to mingle, shop and experience the many faces of art, from photography, handmade jewelry and pottery to music and food.

"It's a fun event for all of us," said Kaufenberg, who has been one of the juried artists several previous times at Celebrate Art! "It has been good for me too. I always seem to have people that buy my artwork."

The event draws 3,000 to 3,500 people each year, said Janet Olney, coordinator of the Willmar Area Arts Council, which organizes and sponsors the festival.

"We're hoping we'll have at least that again this year," she said.

Organizers have stuck with a familiar formula -- a blend of art exhibits, sales and outdoor entertainment -- that over the years has helped turn Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! into one of the region's largest and most successful arts events.

"I think people really look forward to it," Olney said.

One of the indicators is the number of people who come downtown for the event and often spend half the day there, she said. "I think it's because we have the entertainment. There's a lot to do. People really do come and stay."

What's in store for Saturday:

n Vendor booths by 32 Minnesota artists who will be displaying and selling their work. The artists, who were selected through an application process, include painters, photographers and jewelry makers. There'll be ceramic art, etchings, glass art, textiles and baskets.

n Art and craft demonstrations, starting at 10 a.m. and giving onlookers a chance to see the process involved in stone cutting, wood carving, collage-making, Japanese textile art and more.

n Live music from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. This year's lineup includes barbershop groups, Celtic fiddle music and American folk music, plus two performances -- at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. -- by the Dolina Dancers, a troupe of Polish folk dancers.

n Hands-on "make and take" art activities for children and adults.

n Food vendors and free coffee.

n Pie, coffee and an art show at Bethel Lutheran Church from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

n An exhibit of traditional art and architecture from Papua, New Guinea, at The Barn Theatre from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Outdoor activities will be moved to Kennedy School in case of rain.

Willmar artist Laura Welle has been one of the juried artists almost every year since Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! began in the late 1990s. Her specialty is mixed media, using a combination of collage, painting and print techniques.

Welle said the festival seems to get better every year, especially with how smoothly it's organized.

"It's just so streamlined. It's easier for people to get around," she said. "And they're just very accommodating to the artists that come. They take care of us."

The event also gives artists a valuable commodity: exposure for their work, she said. "The people start coming right away. It's busy all day, nonstop."

In the decade that Kaufenberg has had a booth, she has seen the traffic grow. "I have noticed more people that come," she said.

Although some of them are mostly browsing, many are there to buy -- and they've been willing to spend money on original art even through the recession, she said. "People are still buying art. It's something that makes them feel good."

Olney, who will be exhibiting her own fiber and basket art at the show, said visitors to this year's event will find many of their favorite artists still there but also will have a chance to discover someone new.

"Every year we add a few new ones," she said.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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