The Mad River Industrial Art Park


Funding Received: 2013
Blue Lake, CA
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
November 12, 2013

On Friday, October 18th and Saturday, October 19th, Dell’Arte and our Art Park partners presented Blue Lake Harvest Days, a two-day celebration to kick-off a year of arts-based activities supported by ArtPlace America with additional funding by the California Arts Council. All events were free to the public. The festivities started on Friday promptly at 7 p.m., just as the full moon peeked over the horizon. The first ever Blue Lake Harvest Moon Square Dance was underway! 315 people came out to dance under our new circus-style tent, which we erected and decorated in the Industrial Park parking lot. The Stripped Pig Stringband, headed by Colin Vance of Vance Banjo’s (who has a studio in the Industrial Park), played ol’ timey tunes and Tony Mates traveled from Seattle to call the dances; a rompin’, stompin’ good time was had by all.

Over 1,000 people visited Blue Lake for the festival. Saturday brought a full day of free activities throughout Blue Lake. The Mad River Grange (located in downtown Blue Lake) offered pumpkin carving, apple pressing, contests, cakewalks, and pulled pork sandwiches. The Blue Lake Museum opened its doors and its all-volunteer staff and artists created an interactive Fish-in-the-Fence mural. Attendees were encouraged to write their vision for Blue Lake on long strips of blue material and weave it into a chain-link fence like it was the water.

In a brief walk from downtown to the Industrial Park, a visitor could participate in an interactive side-walk chalk mural project while waiting for a free pony ride, provided in partnership with Blue Lake Parks and Rec and Blue Lake horse maven Bettina Eipper and her horses, all decked out for the occasion. In the Industrial Park, there were an array of open studios, local artist booths, bird walks along the river, and arts encounters. Local artists exhibited and sold their wares on the property of Wallace and Hinz, a long-time resident in the Industrial Park and a company that creates saloon-style bars that are sold all over the world. Lyn Jones, a local letter press artist, offered the opportunity for attendees to use on an ol’ time letter press to create special cards that read “Blue Lake Harvest Days 2013.”

BL Harvest Days

We hosted the first annual Pumpkin Chuck Contest. The kids had a chance to launch mini-pumpkins, some hand painted for the occasion, from a medieval trebuchet and compete for milkshakes from Stardoughs, Blue Lake’s only coffee shop. The Mad River Brewery hosted Food Trucks and art by Michele Mcall-Wallace. Dell’Arte worked with Blue Lake Elementary School to exhibit the children’s art through our window panes.

We blocked off many of the parking lots in the Industrial Park to cars. Crafts activities for adults and children emphasized envisioning a better Blue Lake, such as a large floor scrabble-type map of words. Blue Lake sound bites and stories were captured by the North Coast Story Collective and ‘performance encounters’ kept visitors active, from Ghost Walks hosted by Dell’Arte actors, Scarecrow Stilt walkers, and a wandering band who announced the next events through song, Over forty elementary school kids in costumes sang seasonal songs under the Big Top for oohing parents- another great idea by Julie Thompson, who is not only the manager for the Mad River Brewery, our main partner for the event, but also the new Blue Lake Elementary School music teacher. Her suggestion to have a class concert brought more families to the park in the later afternoon for all the activities, a time we were concerned about keeping crowds, and was a great example of cross-sector creative thinking and partnerships.

Offering open studios was also a great success, the first time we have done something like this in the Industrial Park. Wallace and Hinz, Mad River Woodworks, Vance Banjo’s and Dell’Arte all opened their doors and gave tours and answered questions. The surprise participant was the Blue Lake Power Plant, a green power plant that burns wood waste to make power, and a major presence in the Industrial Park, with working steam stacks. They opened their doors for the first time for tours to the public as part of the open studios initiative. The power plant has had a complicated relationship with the many residents in Blue Lake, and the open tour was a good step in furthering transparency and communication. In addition, all the food manufacturers in the Industrial Park donated their goods and food for prizes and as hospitality for the volunteers.

The evening ended with Spooky Stories under the Big Top, including local story-tellers and Dell’Arte performers. As a finale, our local Beatles tribute Band Silver Hammer closed down the tent.

Attendance exceeded our expectations and we can only think the festival will grow from here. We were blessed by unbelievably nice weather for both nights, which helped a lot too. Businesses reported increased revenue and foot traffic, all partnering organizations responded positively and community response has been warm and enthusiastic. The atmosphere was homey, with good spirit. We learned a lot about managing a multi-venue, all-town event, and we are already planning for next year with one under our belt. After the event, local artist participant Elaine Benjamin of wrote:
"Just wanted to let you know that the industrial park looks lifeless without the banners! And we wish all of the scarecrows could have stayed. For a day or two, it was certainly a happenin' place! Hope you (and Dell'Arte) were happy with the events and turnout . . . You guys inspired us."

Also in full swing are plans for “Speed Dating,” a project in January supported also in part by local funder Headwaters to bring together interested artists from the local Humboldt-Made group, developers, architects, and the city of Blue Lake Planning Commission for a night of introductions at the Mad River Brewery. The Blue Lake Industrial Park, christened the Mad River Industrial Art Park through the ArtPlace grant, has seven open parcels of undeveloped land. One of the reflections of “what would success look like” included one community member saying, “all those parcels filled with arts-minded businesses.” This is the first step in pursuing the relationship-building and infrastructure talk necessary to start this process.

Also on the docket for January is a block party/ opening event for the Fish Derby in partnership with the Mad River Alliance, planned for Jan 24th. Dell’Arte will help create a fish themed opening celebration that will brings artists, performers, and businesses together for an opening gala to welcome the Fish Derby contestants to Blue Lake.

Recent Wins
Local TV station 3 preview of Blue Lake Harvest Days:

Pictures of Blue Lake Harvest Days at

Harvest Days Preview in the Times Standard:

Harvest Days brought over 1000 people to Blue Lake over two days.

Dell’Arte started our school year Oct. 5 —bringing 50 students from around the world each to Blue Lake, this year from 12 different countries, for our MFA and theatre programs. The students live, work, and spend in the small town, boosting the economy and our worldview by their presence.

The Tent BL Harvest Days

If you build it, they will come. We were worried about turnout, but Harvest Days was much bigger than we could have imagined for a first-ever. It is true that the community can feel galvanized by the simple act of coming together to dance, to sing, to celebrate.

Everything FOR FREE is a huge help too, but not ultimately sustainable. It feels good to have a community event be successful, and it is also important to move with that momentum, be flexible, get immediate feedback, and utilize all the community assets possible to make sure it can happen again and with more support. Hopefully, Dell’Arte will be able to share the organizational load of running the festival now that much of the groundwork is laid.