CONSHOHOCKEN >> When Conshohocken Art League President Eileen McDonnell attended her first Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary Club meeting a couple of years ago, she had no idea her intro to the group would lead to the creation of Conshohocken’s first Arts Festival and Car Show — scheduled for June 2 from noon to 5 p.m. in the borough’s Mary H. Wood Park.
The festival’s co-hosts are CAL, Conshohocken Borough and Mayor Yaniv Aronson, also an active CPW Rotarian. The event will showcase original paintings, prints, drawings, photographs and crafts by local artists and artisans. Its car show — a nod to the popular gathering staged yearly by former Conshohocken Mayor Robert Frost’s special events committee — is open to cars, trucks and motorcycles of all makes and models.
All proceeds after expenses will benefit the 96-year-old art league. And that, McDonnell says, is “music to our ears” in light of the meager operating budget that routinely struggles to support CAL’s youth and adult classes, live figure drawing sessions and visiting artists program.
Her initial encounters with Aronson and other CPW Rotary members triggered a handful of CAL-Rotary partnerships at community events like Whitemarsh Township Day and Conshohocken’s FunFest.
“The Conshohocken Art League is a public charitable organization, [and] we are particularly dependent upon donations to sustain our existing programs when tuitions do not suffice,” McDonnell explains. “When Yaniv contacted me about the possibility of doing [the festival] as a fundraiser for the art league, I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “In an effort to raise some funds for CAL art supplies, a figure modeling platform and lighting, a visiting artist projector and screen and teacher salaries, I [had approached the borough] for a slight increase to their annual gift to the art league. Unfortunately, given the enormous restoration of the Mary Wood Park House … our request couldn’t be immediately addressed. However, Yaniv, after getting wind of this, approached CAL with [the idea for the festival]. When he asked if we’d like to be [its beneficiary] … I almost fainted.”
Weeks later, McDonnell realizes fainting is not an option.
“Putting something like this together from scratch has been quite a challenge and takes so much time and work,” she says. “The art league had no experience with this kind of event, and it’s like anything else, I guess, in that you learn as you go. But Yaniv put together a great team of people who are really committed to making the festival a success, and hopefully people will support this wonderful effort to bring more visibility to the art league and … to this area’s many talented artists. We are thrilled to participate.”
CAL will also hold its yearly exhibit in Mary Wood Park House on June 2.
“We had to actually cancel last year’s exhibition — due to the lack of funds for awards, setup, advertising and judging — so it’s really going to be a great day for us … to share the work of [CAL’s] students and members,” McDonnell says.
Given his professional background as a filmmaker and, these days, a teacher of the medium at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School and Montgomery County Community College, Aronson sees the arts as “an integral part of my life” and believes the arts festival’s benefits extend way beyond the nonprofit art league.
“When I ran for mayor, expanding the borough’s arts and culture [offerings] was part of my campaign, and response to that was very strong,” he says. “As part of that, it’s a personal goal of mine to have each event we do benefit a public service or charity within the community. That’s my Rotary blood, I guess … the way Rotary’s established the relationship it has with CNC [Colonial Neighborhood Council].
“After working with Eileen at a couple of community events, I became more familiar with [CAL] and realized what an amazing entity it is, even though it’s always had to scrounge for money to make ends meet. Once we discussed the idea of holding the arts festival as a benefit for the art league, everything happened very quickly. We built our team and got the various approvals we needed from the borough … probably all in a matter of three weeks.
“It was a very condensed timeline, but we’re feeling good about the amount of participation and support we’ve received from community groups like Love Conshy. We’ve also offered free booths to nonprofit groups like the Boy Scouts and Conshohocken Elementary and, basically, we’ve been encouraging everyone to get involved. We’re doing our best to make everyone feel welcome because this is a community event for the entire community, and we need all of Conshohocken — not just part of the town — to make it a success.”
To that end, a May 22 Support Local Arts Happy Hour at Conshohocken Brewing Co.’s Tap Room, 739 E. Elm St., earmarked 20 percent of all 5 to 10 p.m. drink orders for the arts festival. On May 29 from 5 to 8 p.m., Coyote Crossing restaurant, 800 Spring Mill Ave., will host an exhibit by local artists. The reception will include free appetizers and a cash bar.
The June 2 festival in Mary H. Wood Park, located between Harry and Hallowell streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues, will also feature live music and food vendors. At press time, organizers were still accepting donations or sponsorships for the event.