Howard Bank is thrilled to once again sponsor the 28th annual Columbia Festival of the Arts this year, which runs June 12-27, spanning three weekends. Last year, we gave you a rundown of facts about the festival you may have never known. This year, we dove even deeper and talked to the festival’s Executive Director, Todd Olson. Read more below for an inside look at this year’s festival.
HB: How did you get involved with the Festival of the Arts? This will be your first Festival as Executive Director, right?
TO: I came to The Columbia Festival of the Arts last August after spending the last 11 years as Artistic Director at the American Stage Theatre Company in St. Petersburg, FL. Soon thereafter, the [Festival] staff tested out the notion of moving from one annual festival to quarterly festivals, and loved the idea. So this year’s event will be our last annual festival before we start presenting weekend-long festivals four times a year.
HB: What exactly goes into planning and putting on the show? How far in advance do you start planning?
TO: We’re constantly planning, booking, curating, and selling. We reached out to The Blind Boys of Alabama [a gospel/blues band that’s been together for 70 years since they were children; you may have seen them on The Colbert Report] my first month on the job and they’ll be one of the highlights of our Summer Festival. We already have some themes set for the next four festivals: “British Invasion” in October, “Beyond the Blues” in February, “Viva la Vida” in April, and “Silk Road Stories” next summer.
HB: Where did the Cross Currents theme for this year come from?
TO: Before we even had a theme, we had already booked two incredibly diverse performers: Pilobolus, a modern dance company, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. With the basis of the Festival set in groups with audiences young and old, hybrids became important – artists that were a little of multiple things. The way Hot Club of San Francisco is jazz but electrified by the element of film. Or the way PigPen Theatre is made up of musicians, actors, and authors. Or the way Second City is part standup, part improv, and part sketch comedy. All acts are energized with currents of multiple skills crossing through them.
HB: What value do you see business and brands getting out of participating in the festival, through sponsorships, etc.?
TO: For myriad reasons, businesses want to set up shop in communities where the arts are strong. It has to do with quality of life for their employees and families, and the kind of cultural affluence they want in their customer base. Exceptional companies support not-for-profits in their community, because without any community involvement they might as well set up shop in rural Iowa (I can say that, I was born and raised in Iowa). Businesses want to be in Howard County because there is a cultural richness here.
At Columbia Festival of the Arts we like to showcase the many corporate partners we have, in any way we can. We’re lucky Howard Bank is involved in the Festival again this year. More banks should take Howard Bank’s lead in community efforts.
HB: Which event in this year’s festival are you most looking forward to?
TO: I have to say The Blind Boys of Alabama have been on my “bucket list” ever since I heard them on the Original Broadway recording of The Gospel at Colonus. They have won five Grammys, recorded with just about everyone, and are true living legends. Everyone should take advantage of having them in our community for one night to witness a little bit of musical history– they’ll be glad they did.
Are you a HoCo resident/native?
TO: I am. My wife Charlotte and I live in River Hill. Our daughters Corinna and May attend Lime Kiln Middle School, and our son Jonas is finishing up his first year at Atholton High School.
Thanks to Todd for giving us some inside information on this year’s festival. Hope to see everyone there in June!