The Mad River Industrial Art Park


Funding Received: 2013
Blue Lake, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
August 11, 2014

By Meghan Frank

Update and Reflections
The 24th annual Mad River Festival has opened! The premiere brought a large crowd to our outdoor amphitheatre, and we have over 40 performances running June 19 and going through Aug 3. We have expanded the festival from five to seven weeks. This means more music, more shows, more venues, more variety and more community events. The line-up includes acrobatic shows, community pageants, new Dell’Arte Company works, circus mayhem, dance performance, a new-works theatre laboratory, our infamous adult cabaret, a week of local music with the Humboldt Folklife Festival, a concert by the Eureka Symphony and the first-ever Blue Lake Blues Festival, with music events in many Blue Lake hubs, from the Logger Bar to the Casino. The theme of the past several months: plan, plan, plan. And now we see all come into action.

Check out our line-up here.

True to our mandate to create “Theatre of Place” in Blue Lake, Dell’Arte is interested in local topics and the convergence of the traditional and new, the past and the present; Humboldt County has transitioned from a redwood logging county into a shifting new paradigm of economic drivers, from marijuana farming to a burgeoning arts economy. The 2014 MRF will reflect this changing landscape with Korbel V: The Secret in an all-new sequel to the Dell'Arte Company's popular 'Korbel' series, this instalment was written and directed by resident playwright and Dell’Arte Faculty member Lauren Wilson. Korbel is an actual town neighboring Blue Lake, and although the Korbel in the series is largely fictional, the play references local event, places, and issues. Korbel has one of the few lumber mills still working in the area, which has faced major challenges this year to keep its doors open.

Raising the tent on the festival Tent Raising[/caption]

Aside from activities surrounding the Mad River Festival, we have also been moving other ArtPlace funded initiatives forward as well: we have created a committee of Blue Lake Art Park businesses partners to commission a kinetic sculpture at the intersection/entryway of the Blue Lake Business Park. We have hired Scott Cocking, local artist and designer, and permits have begun and designs are being hatched as we speak and will be unveiled at the 2nd annual Harvest Days Festival.

We have begun a partnership with the Blue Lake Chamber of Commerce to install “Welcome to Blue Lake” banners throughout town that will highlight local artists and promote local events.

We finished landscaping our side lot, transforming it from fallow field and impromptu parking lot, into the 2014 festival “expanded seating area and food court”. We have pitched the Circus Tent in our side lot as well, which will be a new venue for performance and music events. As this side lot is in the middle of downtown Blue Lake, the landscaping will enhance the aesthetic beauty of the downtown area and create a public meeting place with picnic tables once the Festival is over.

On June 8 & 9, Dell’Arte participated in the North Coast Open Studios, an event that opened artist doors throughout the north coast for two weekends. Primarily for visual artists, Dell’Arte offered a series of open rehearsals for upcoming shows.

Dell’Arte has initiated talks with community planning consultants, Greenway Partners to create a consortium of stakeholders (Dell’Arte will be a member) for the long-term commitment to the development of the business park into an arts and industry village. The idea would be for Greenway to administer the projects and various partners. The search for funding this ongoing initiative continues.

Photo from Korbel V Photo from Korbel V[/caption]

For the Mad River Festival, Dell’Arte is planning a community parade “Blue Lake: the Center of the Universe Party,” named after a local artist here who has created a man-hole cover project - with tongue and cheek marking Blue Lake as the Center of the Universe on the man hole cover. This project was funded by the Blue Lake Rising Grants, as part of our ArtPlace activities. The parade route passes and honors each of the projects funded by this grant. Claire Reynolds, a grant recipient, who will film a music video on that day, responded that beyond the immediate impact of the grants in terms of physical improvements to our town, the grants have allowed members of the community a chance to “connect and talk to people we would never had talked to before and share Blue Lake in a new way with each other.”

The week of April 30th, Humboldt Made hosted a Buyers Weekend in Blue Lake, in which large food buyers such as Whole Foods were introduced to local artisan food makers. The Mad River Brewery in the Blue Lake Business Park hosted many of the events and Dell’Arte provided entertainment. From that meeting, we have gotten significant sponsorship from Humboldt Made for the festival. Through this, we have seen the result of changing our narrative from Arts Organization to Economic Driver in the region—it has begun to bear fruit. It is the act of changing the conversation around the arts as viable and powerful entities of both commerce and culture that help capture momentum. In fact, Humboldt Made is primarily artisan food vendors, and we were told that at a recent board meeting, the question was asked WHY Dell’Arte’s was part of Humboldt Made, some saying this was not the place for us – what is the product, etc? But several business leaders talked about the necessity of arts organizations like Dell’Arte to be part of the consortium, as a reason people come to the area and understand Humboldt as unique from other places in the US. We are of this place, and should have a say at the table. This we think is a big win- and we weren’t even defending ourselves, this came from business leaders that see the value in what we do.

In preparation for the parade, the Blue Lake Rising Grants are starting to take shape around town. We have had numerous conversations with community members about their process, the most recent with Margo Whitcomb and her family and friends who are helping get the site ready for the installation, as well as a city worker, there to oversee the project. I caught up to them all eating pizza after jackhammering the concrete to make way for a new, decorative man-hole cover. The man from the city got to chatting about the deficit and how he didn’t want anyone complaining that the city is paying its employees to put up art. “Although I am all for it, for the culture of the town—and this particular manhole cover needed repairs as it is, so I am fully supportive,” but it is an interesting conversation to have had. With cities with tiny budgets, making public works projects could be considered wasted effort and money. The conversation opened then to the real benefit of a small town, such as the tight community spirit they feel with each other, as was evidenced by the building of these projects. People came out to help each other, and supported each other.

Michael Fields, Producing Artistic Director of Dell’Arte and Jamie Bennett, Executive Director of Artplace America were featured on local radio KHSU for “Thursday Night Talks” about art and economic development. Hosted by Jacqueline R. Debets, Economic Development Coordinator & WIB Executive Director. Listen to the show here.

Blue Lake residents are taking safety into their own hands, and creating a safety commission, with neighborhood watches for emergencies. Dell’Arte has been asked to help plan a block party to celebrate the culmination of these efforts.

Taken Away_photo Anthony Arnista Photo from Taken Away[/caption]


Jamie Bennett said a great thing on air on “Thursday Night Talks” that we are taking away as an insight for these past months. We got this grant in “economic development” and have been interested in attracting more artisan business and tourism to Blue Lake through arts events. Jamie mentioned that not only do the arts attract people to a place, but the arts also provide “stickiness,” a reason for people to grow roots in a place and choose to make it their home. “We live in an age when you can work anywhere, but you must choose to LIVE somewhere” he explained, and this resonates greatly with Blue Lake, which is a rural town. As many rural areas struggle with keeping people, Blue Lake is at its peak population. Blue Lake is a place where many artists and creative people already live, work, and choose to set their roots. We must nurture and share the unique culture we have here through community, collaboration, and deep listening, and strive to go further, dig deeper, and support each other in further growth.

Last night, at the opening of Korbel V: the Secret, it was validating to hear how often the community relished in “the local,”—characters, references in the play that were specially aimed at reaching a Humboldt audience. The audience was able to laugh at themselves through the characters on stage, and feel validation about the place they live through the act of live performance.