Since its inception in 1976, the Cambridge River Festival has provided a fascinating laboratory for experimental public art. The free public event, which takes place along the Charles River, is one of the Commonwealth's largest celebrations of the arts, attended by over one hundred thousand people annually. For a day in June, a mile long stretch of the riverbank is transformed into an eclectic artistic medley, where visual artists, musicians, dancers, storytellers, poets, and roving performers present their diverse creations. The energy is exhilarating.

The festive spirit and the transitory nature of the Festival have fostered artistic explorations far beyond the traditional boundaries of public art. Artists have presented structures of every imaginable kind - inflatable, mechanical, digital, musical, floating, rolling -- and created installations both on the riverbank and in the river itself.

They have roved the site in outrageous costumes, raced sculptures, served tea, and collected trash. Even the sky was transformed at the 1979 Festival with twisting searchlights creating a dazzling display of changing patterns on the firmament.

Perhaps the most telling characteristic of public art at the Festival is participation. Everything from poetry to the creation of banners has been subjected to experimental collaboration. And with technology, people from far beyond the Festival grounds have gotten involved in projects ranging from early 1970's "Phone-a-Poem" to interactive cyber-artworks in recent years.

Proposals for temporary projects at the River Festival are accepted on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Artists should call the Arts Council (617-349-4380) for further information and guidelines.

Cambridge Arts Council is supported in part by the City of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

© 2002-2003 Cambridge Arts Council
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