PERU — Lacy Moore stood outside the Miami County Courthouse on Saturday painting a colorful fishman dressed as an English gentleman.
She said the image was inspired by Peruvian circus roots and old carnival shows. The background of the painting represented sunbeams inspired by the architecture of the courthouse.
But Moore was not alone in her artistic endeavor. Across the city, dozens of painters also worked on pieces depicting local buildings and scenes as part of Peru’s first-ever Visual Arts Festival.
The event ran all day Saturday, with nearly 40 vendors set up around the courthouse square selling unique items such as paintings and handcrafted wooden artwork.
In the morning, more than 30 children from the county’s three school districts gathered for an outdoor painting contest along the Wabash River with local artist JO Buffington.
At 1 p.m., all of the children gathered near the courthouse, where Antonia Dornich, a German exchange student at Maconaquah High School, won first place and a $200 prize. Dornich accepted the award with a beaming smile as she held her painting.
The festival was the culmination of eight months of planning after the city’s community arts council decided to organize the event to support Peruvian artists while contributing to downtown economic development.
Marlene Mickelson, executive director of the Miami County Artisan Gallery, the nonprofit organization under which the festival was run, said the event was meant to give local artists some exposure. It also aimed to attract people from downtown to support the city’s three art galleries and two studios, where people can take classes in glass and pottery.
“We need to promote artists here in Peru,” Mickelson said. “Peru just has a plethora of artists.”
This promotion went beyond the sellers. Inside nearly every downtown restaurant hung 60 paintings by local artists that festival-goers could vote on for a People’s Choice award. They could also buy the paintings.
“It’s really a partnership and the whole city got involved,” Mickelson said of the festival.
For Michelle Waite, a local artist who makes unique wooden pieces called soulful stix, the event was a great way to showcase her work to the world. His pieces were on display to visitors under a tent in the square, where Waite managed to sell a few of his pieces.
She said she particularly likes the festival because it’s close to home and supports local businesses.
“I thought that was a really cool idea with the paintings and the vendors and the galleries having exhibits and events,” she said.
These gallery events included special artist exhibitions, as well as live music. At the Miami County Artisan Gallery, people could also bid to have a portrait done by one of six local painters. All proceeds were donated to a new arts scholarship for students.
Patrick Redmon, an art teacher at Maconaquah Middle School who co-hosted the event, said the festival was the perfect way to energize the city’s art scene.
He said that with strong turnout and community support, they plan to hold the event again next year.
But the festival’s ultimate goal, Redmon said, is to transform Peru into a sort of “artistic matrix” where people feel inspired to pursue their own creative passions.
And with artists like Moore drawing inspiration from the city for his Fishman painting, the festival was an important first step in achieving that goal.
“Since growing up here, I’ve really seen the creativity of Peruvian artists blossom,” Redmon said. “They just need a place to meet and show it to the public. I really think it will help increase artistic culture in Peru.