GOULDSBORO — Even on a gray and drizzly day, the Combs Studio is bright and cheerful, with pieces of freshly thrown pottery adorning tables and jars of colorful glazes lining the shelves. The studio, gifted to Schoodic Arts for All by the late potter Doris Combs, is used often by the nonprofit organization, including for its free children’s programming.
It is also where Colt Neidhardt, executive director of Schoodic Arts for All, and Anna Woolf, the organization’s program development and education coordinator, are abuzz with ideas and excitement for the upcoming 24th Schoodic Arts Festival, running July 25 through Aug. 13. SAFA’s flagship event, the festival offers 50 workshops as well as noontime and evening performances for the public and local community to participate in and attend.
This is the first festival that will be spearheaded by Neidhardt, who succeeded SAFA’s longtime director, Mary Laury, last year.
The 2022 festival is offering many old favorites, along with new programming and a few organizational changes.
“One of the things we’re really excited about … is that we’re going to be able to offer all of our festival performances this year for free,” Neidhardt said. With a focus on making the performances as accessible as possible, folks are encouraged to bring a chair, a friend and pack a picnic for the shows that will take place at the Gouldsboro Town Park, rather than the previous location at Hammond Hall.
The festival has also been expanded an extra week in an effort to give participants the chance to attend as many workshops as possible.
Another change is that the festival will be bookended with new events; an opening barbecue on July 24 at the Gouldsboro Town Park, and a children’s craft tent with free craft-making opportunities during the Winter Harbor Lobster Festival, which will close out the festival’s weeks of artistic activity.
“We’re really excited about that,” Woolf said.
The free opening barbecue will include music, food and lawn games. It also will be a place where instructors, performers and community members can mingle together. It’s a sentiment that coincides with SAFA’s goal of further strengthening a sense of community and building on the work of SAFA legends such as Laury, Combs, Cynthia Thayer and her late husband, Bill.
The spirit of community is integral to Neidhardt’s work and his experience with the arts.
Originally from western Nebraska and a hometown with a population of about 800, Neidhardt got involved with a local theater company at a young age.
“That was one of my big, creative outlets when I was a kid growing up in this rural town,” he recalled.
He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, a master’s in theater from University of Nebraska at Omaha and a bachelor’s in theater from Chadron State College, but his calling to foster artistic opportunities in rural settings remained.
“My experience was always a little bit different than my peers,” Neidhardt said. “When I was in training in theater school, everybody was talking about how they could move to New York … they wanted to chase that side of things. For me, the goal had always been to be able to build something like the company that I’d grown up in or contribute to something like the company I’d grown up in, because I think being able to bring arts into a rural community is a wonderful thing to do and it’s good for quality of life.”
That spirit of community also has allowed Neidhardt to partner with local organizations that may not immediately be associated with the arts, like the , which will have a workshop at this year’s festival called “Meet Your Local Clams.”
The workshop will include information on preserving local clams and recipes for how the shellfish can be prepared.
“We’re broadening, maybe, some of the definition of what we offer, but we’re doing it in support of highlighting some of the best of what Schoodic Peninsula has,” Neidhardt said. “I think we’re finding that folks in sectors that might be considered different from the arts are actually applying a lot of the same skills and are thinking about a lot of the same things.”
Other festival offerings in its extensive list include fermenting vegetables, rug-hooking and a poetry workshop and reading in partnership with the Dorcas Library by Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet for former President Barack Obama.
Additionally, Kristen Mudge will offer “Let’s Make Some Noise,” where participants will become percussionists with yoga balls and drumsticks to combine drumming, movement and as a result, make some noise.
“Which feels a lot like self-care these days,” Woolf said.