Paintings and drawings in restaurants and local businesses. Music acts performing in open spaces of all kinds. Improv troupes in hair salons.

What in the name of Fellini is going on?

The Boneyard Arts Festival is upon us, Champaign-Urbana. I don’t know if you’ve seen the posters or the ads or heard the buzz or basically walked out-of-doors lately, but this is a big deal. Just how big? I got some perspective — some scope, if you will — from Kelly White, Executive Director of 40 North.

Seriously, though. This is huge. It’s everywhere. It’s right behind you. Check your kitchen — there might be a bluegrass band in there.

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Smile Politely: Let's assume, for a moment, that I've never attended any of the events associated with the Boneyard Arts Festival. I live in the community, I've seen banners and such, but I don't really know about it. What is the Boneyard Arts Festival (other than a great name for a Tom Waits album), and what's in this for me?

Kelly White: The Boneyard is MUCH different than your average arts festival where streets are closed down and there are rows of booths with artists selling their work. This festival takes place all over the county in over 100 venues (both traditional and nontraditional) for 4 days. Therefore you not only get to discover new local artists but also new local businesses, organizations, and open studios. And since the art is not restricted to booths, the diversity is remarkable. In one venue you might see traditional paintings hung in a café while next door you could see an empty store front completely transformed with site specific installation art as well as a film festival a couple of blocks away. In a venue down the street there might be a lineup of bluegrass and rock music, and across town a fiction writers reading their work and a wheel-throwing demo as well several activities created just for kids. So, what’s in it for you? The chance to experience the impressive creative culture in this community while also discovering new and overlooked venues that you might not have ever ventured into before. No matter what your interests, you’re likely going to find it during the Boneyard.

SP: Are there any returning artists this year that you're particularly excited about having participate? (Or is this question like asking which of your kids is the prettiest...?)

White: They’re all the prettiest. Yeah, several artists participate every year, but usually in a different venue probably showing different work or collaborating with different artists. I think what we get most excited about is seeing those collaborations materialize. Whether artists working with artists or businesses working with artists – when they meet in the middle and create a new experience for festival-goers it is definitely a thrill on our end. We provide the deadline and they make it happen. We have a few of pop-up galleries this year (311 S Neil, and 312 N Walnut, both in Champaign and [co][lab] in Urbana) that were a blast to watch develop and help facilitate as well as brand new venues immediately jumping on board.

SP: Is there anything this year that's wildly out of the norm compared to years past?

White: Sounds kinda bizarre but the aspect that was totally different this year was the crazy winter weather. We extended the registration deadline for the first time in ages after many requests from folks who just hadn’t had a chance to formulate their plan for the festival. Everybody was just a few weeks behind on everything and thinking about a springtime festival full of sunshine and activities seemed like a distant dream. Luckily it all came together and this year has potential to be one of the best Boneyards to date.

 SP: Just looking briefly at the Boneyard Arts map on the 40 North website, and holy bejesus are there are lot of things going on. How long does something like this take to organize?

White: Holy bejesus is right! With only 2 staff members, we are very lucky to have an amazing and dedicated volunteer committee that starts meeting with staff in October almost right after we wrap up ACE Awards. We have a core committee as well as individual district committees that assist with each district (Campus, Champaign, Urbana, and Out & About). Once the signature piece is chosen in January, the 40 North office basically turns into a Boneyard sweatshop. And my desk doesn’t usually recover until September.

SP: In all seriousness, this is an enormous undertaking, and it's lovely to see so much art and talent being displayed all over our community. In what ways would you like to change or improve (or even expand) in the coming year(s)?

White: We are always trying to make sure the festival evolves and progresses in some way. We send out surveys every year to artists, venues, and festival-goers to get feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Those surveys have led to several of the changes over the years (district days, artist listings, online registration, etc.) and we are always open for improvements. We always hope for further expansion – both in the downtown areas as well as outlying communities. Something that has come up a few times in the past is the possibility of bus tours that would take you around to all the venues.  

SP: Let's say that, having read your responses, deciding the Boneyard Arts Festival sounds cool, and attending some exhibits, I want to participate next year. What do I do now (other than learn a skill)?

White: Start talking to venues where you would want to show your work, initiate collaborations with other artists you know, attend the Boneyard Connect events in February, create a free dedicated artist profile page on our website, subscribe to our email list and like the festival on Facebook

SP: Thanks, Kelly!

If you're out and about this weekend, you're bound to run into something Boneyard-related. And let's face it: there's something beautiful about the idea of running out to get a sandwich and discovering great local art along the way. So do yourself a favor and pay attention to the art all around you. And maybe, even after the Boneyard Arts Festival has ended for this year, you'll keep right on seeing it.