“Carry art, push art, pull art or wear it; play music, dance and perform.” Those are the stipulations organizers Dan Thompson and Jim Epstein put in place for participants in the first—hopefully annual—Wheaton Arts Parade and Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Parade the Triangle, the event’s procession up a closed-to-traffic section of Georgia Avenue starting at 10 a.m., will feature hand-pulled floats as well as giant puppets, dancers and musicians, costumed and/or masked people of all ages and ethnicities. The arts festival, at Veterans Park, will follow from noon to 6 p.m., including some 40 tents of artists displaying their work and three stages, each with six hours of live performances by musicians and dancers, presentations by storytellers and poets, and original film screenings.
The two Wheaton residents have taken the helm in organizing the celebration of Wheaton’s arts and cultural diversity, with Thompson mostly tackling the parade and Epstein, the festival. Both men have arts backgrounds, although it has not been their primary careers, and share a concern that the county’s third A&E District currently has no venues for artists or performances. Thompson and Epstein joined forces at the suggestion of Luisa Montero-Diaz, director of the Mid-County Regional Service Center, after each had considered individual options to celebrate Wheaton’s arts.
Thompson is one of 11 members of the Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC), appointed by the County Executive to provide advice on all matters affecting downtown Wheaton. WUDAC supported the county’s successful effort in obtaining re-designation of Wheaton as an Arts & Entertainment (A&E) District and expanding the district to include the new library/recreation center and the Westfield Wheaton shopping mall.
In June 2016, Thompson retired from a 29-year public service career that focused on international environmental cooperation with the federal government. An actor, director and acting teacher earlier in life, Thompson founded the non-for-profit Wheaton Wonders in January 2016 to promote the work of Wheaton area artists. This celebration is the group’s first event.
Epstein serves on the board of the Glenmont Forest Neighborhood Civic Association, which is part of a Wheaton North consortium that works with county organizations on common issues such as safety, traffic and parks. That’s how “I became more aware of the A&E designation,” he said.
Epstein, who has a sales and marketing background, is a working SAG-AFTRA actor, a Helen Hayes Awards judge and most recently, the founder of EMPATHeatre, a “nonpartisan platform convening artists, issue experts and resources to reduce polarization and find common ground on social issues.” As such, he is “dedicated to employing the arts as a catalyst for conversation and change.” The festival is EMPATHeatre’s second major event, he said.
The inspiration for Parade the Triangle (at least part of said triangle until its scheduled completion in 2020, organizers acknowledge), said Thompson, was the result of his Googling arts parades. That search led him to Cleveland, Ohio’s Parade the Circle, which started 26 years ago to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Cleveland Museum of Art. What Thompson saw at the end of his six- or seven-hour drive to the Cleveland event convinced him he was on the right track for Wheaton and he proceeded to submit a 10-page grant proposal to the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County.
Armed with the $10,000 grant, the organizers approached police and traffic officials for the requisite permits and area businesses as well as individual artists and groups who offered support in various ways. Westfield Wheaton donated vacant space, now dubbed the Art Factory, where participants have been constructing and storing their floats. Einstein High School’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy faculty judged a poster contest (funded by Wheaton IHOP and won by Churchill High School senior Garret Goltz) to brand and advertise the event.
Five open-to-the-public free workshops—led by area professionals including set designer Paul Falcon, designer Laura Lee Palmer, puppeteer Elizabeth Dapo, dancer Paige Friedeman, painter Cindy Renteria–were held in August and September to guide participants in building floats and creating puppets, masks and costumes. Einstein students have “made some amazing floats,” Thompson said.
Thompson expects many local officials to take part—as well as to observe one additional strict rule: No electioneering.
The Latino Art League of Greater Washington has reached out to the area’s substantial Spanish-speaking community, and assisted organizers in meeting their goals: to bring Wheaton’s “diverse citizens, cultures and commerce together to celebrate the visual and performing arts”—and to help make Wheaton a destination that lives up to its designation as an Arts & Entertainment District.
Parade the Triangle starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 24; participants will assemble between 8 and 10 a.m. in the parking lot between Fitzgerald Car Dealer and Best Buy. The Festival will take place from noon to 6 p.m. in Veterans Park (Fern Street between Reedie Drive, Price Avenue and Amherst Avenue). Admission is free. Food will be available for purchase between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Visit www.wheatonartsparade.com or www.facebook.com/WheatonArtsParade.