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The Westerville Music and Arts Festival

Festival-goers look through the art on display.

What is the Festival and its History?

Matt Lofy describes the festival.

The Westerville Music and Arts Festival is a yearly tradition in central Ohio that brings together the community and displays the talent of local citizens, allowing artists to present and sell their work and musicians to perform in front of an audience and grow their name. It has steadily grown in size throughout its history, featuring an increasing number of artists and musicians.  The festival was started in 1973 by Doris Hoffman and has taken place every year since. It began as a small-scale event on Westerville’s State Street before moving to Towers Hall at Otterbein University as more space was needed. The festival finally settled in the spacious Heritage Park in 2000, where it has stayed ever since. Music has taken a bigger focus in past few years with more performers hired, with 35-40 musicians performing over the course of the weekend. It also includes or has included plays, poetry readings, storytelling, and dance troupes during its history, with 130+ artists a part of the event each year. Adding to this, the festival has nearly 20,000 visitors yearly. The festival’s primary goal, according to its director Matt Lofy, is to celebrate and give back to the local community, highlighting its talented individuals in the process. 

Much of the festival’s art is positioned around Heritage Park’s pond.

Community Importance:

The festival is an essential part of summer life in Westerville and the surrounding area. Festivals of this nature are ways that a community can come together and celebrate itself. According to Ros Derrett in Festivals & Regional Destinations: How Festivals Demonstrate a Sense of Community & Place, “Festivals and events demonstrate the popular definitions of a sense of community through offering connections, belonging, support, empowerment, participation, and safety. The sort of informal participation afforded by festivals and events provides residents with a sound overall view of their community” (38). Since Westerville doesn’t have many other informal coming-together opportunities, the Music and Arts Festival is one of the only ways for community bonding and celebration to occur. Furthermore, as stated by Insun Sunny Lee, Timothy Jeonglyeol Lee, and Charles Arcodia in The effect of community attachment on cultural festival visitors’ satisfaction and future intentions, “For Americans, festivals and the occasional accompanying parade are excuses for people to get together. They are moments of special significance in community life” (38). Like other Americans, the people of Westerville enjoy excuses to come together and spend a couple of days forgetting their problems. The fact that the festival occurs every year (even taking place virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic) demonstrates its importance to the Westerville community. On top of this, local events like the Westerville Music and Arts Festival bring revenue into the community as well as tourists from other cities and states. Lofy talks about artists coming from far away to attend the festival, including from Florida, more and more often.

In folklore, festivals are a way for like-minded people to meet each other and celebrate their love for a shared interest. The Westerville Music and Arts Festival is just one of many examples of this. The city of Westerville is only 15 miles from Ohio’s capital, Columbus, which hosts its own arts festival every summer. Despite Columbus’ festival being larger scale and taking place nearby, there is a loyal group of people who attend the Westerville festival each year. This can be related back to identity and expression. The people of Westerville see the local festival as something more personal and representative of them, making them feel more attached to it. Furthermore, many of the performers and artists from the festival are people that they might people know from the community, rather than in Columbus festival (where artists come from all over the country). As said in Festival Places: Revitalising Rural Australia by Chris Gibson and John Connell, “More than anything else this sense of totally embracing community distinguishes urban and rural festivals” (8). Westerville isn’t rural, but rather suburban, but the gap still exists (though it is smaller) between a place like Westerville and a city like Columbus and the same logic can be applied. Like rural people, the inhabitants of Westerville decide to go to the local festival because it celebrates them and their community rather than the Columbus festival, which is far less personal and more commercialized. On top of this, as Lofy mentions, the festival massively benefits the local economy. According to him, an economic impact study found that the indirect spending from the festival brought around a million dollars to Westerville businesses each year, making this another reason that local people would want to go to the nearby festival. 

Traditions and Change Over Time…

Music has become a bigger focus for the festival in recent years.

Matt Lofy details ways that the festival’s runners have attempted to diversify and adapt it.

In folklore, a topic of discussion is how traditions change over time. When norms change and a tradition become outdated, it could die out, but instead of doing so, traditions often adapt. Going in line with this, the Westerville Music and Arts Festival has always been open to change. It’s shifted locations multiple times throughout its history as it has grown in size in size. New elements have been added over time, such as the Saturday Night concert, which has become one of the festival’s main attractions in recent years. Each festival, new acts come in and replace old ones, with Lofy saying that he always wants things to stay fresh. One thing that’s becoming a more and more important focus for the festival is reaching a wider audience. The goal is to make the Westerville Music and Arts Festival relevant and exciting to wider groups of people, and that means bringing in a more diverse group of musicians, a wider selection of food, and seeking out new artists that are pushing the boundaries and innovating. Lofy says that he wants the festival to find young and exciting artists to add to the collection of creators that they already have, in the process doing things like creating a digital media tent. He wants to acknowledge a shift in the art landscape and this is one way of doing it. As David Picard and Mike Robinson say in Remaking Worlds: Festivals Tourism and Change, “The Idea of festivals as limited and ‘permitted’ transgressions, rather than timed-fixed occurrences of whole-scale radicalism, emphasizes the point that festivals exist and resonate within wider contexts and structures” (7). The attempts by the runners of the Westerville Music and Arts Festival to use their event as a way of being proactive and keeping up with the times rather than becoming attached to the past shows one of the ways that festivals can be part of societal progress when they bring in artists and performers from further away and work a wider collection of art and musical styles into the event. Insun Sunny Lee, Timothy Jeonglyeol Lee, and Charles Arcodia, argue that visitors who feel an attachment to the community and ethnic culture of a festival are more likely to revisit it. In a society like America where people from all over the globe live, there are a diverse number of cultures and communities. An event like the Westerville Music and Arts Festival needs to be adapted if its runners want a greater number of people to feel connected with it.

A prime example of the festival having to adapt came in the year 2020, when hosting the event in person became impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to the festival being held online. The festival’s goal was to support the artists who’d attended their event for so many years, trying to promote their work in any way possible. An in-person food pickup station was created so a few of the food trucks could be supported like they usually are and the work of the artists and musicians was shared online through the festival’s website. This desire to give back relates back to the importance of community in small-scale, local festivals. The Westerville Music and Arts Festival has now taken place for nearly five decades, meaning it has endured many societal changes and shifting cultural norms. If it is to stay relevant in the future to new generations, then it will have to continue to adapt and readjust, redefining itself as its community evolves. 

For More Information:

More information can be found at https://www.westervillechamber.com/music-arts-festival

Works Cited:

Barton, Rhys A, and Matt Lofy. “Barton, Rhys_WestervilleMusicandArtsFestival.” 16 Jan. 2021.

Gibson, Chris, and John Connell. Festival Places Revitalising Rural Australia. Channel View Publications, 2011.

Insun Sunny Lee, Timothy Jeonglyeol Lee & Charles Arcodia (2014) The effect of community attachment on cultural festival visitors’ satisfaction and future intentions, Current Issues in Tourism, 17:9, 800-812, DOI: 10.1080/13683500.2013.770450

Picard, David, and Mike Robinson. Festivals, Tourism and Social Change: Remaking Worlds. Channel View Publications, 2009.

Ros Derrett (2003) Festivals & Regional Destinations: How Festivals Demonstrate a Sense of Community & Place, Rural Society, 13:1, 35-53, DOI: 10.5172/ Rsj.351.13.1.35