Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the 6th annual Wheeling Arts Fest. This year was slightly different from previous years; the Arts Fest and the Upper Ohio Valley Multi-Cultural Festival combined their efforts to bring both entertainment and artistry, cultural learning and understanding into one, big, two day festival at Wheeling Heritage Port! Though I was only able to attend part of Saturday rather than both full days, I just about got my fill of fun in the few hours that I was there—three different music and dance performances, two dozen local artists whose works ranged from photography to jewelry to clay to metalwork to pastel, and just plain gorgeous weather to top it off.
For the first hour I perused the vast array of artwork. One artist that stood out to me was Jeffrey Nelson. His art was beautiful, rustic, wood carved mirrors; designs of flowers, butterflies, koi, ginkgo, and so much more adorned the frames. Some of the mirrors I saw were too gorgeous to believe that they could be used for something as practical as checking one’s reflection. They’re truly masterpieces. I wanted to own every piece I saw; not a thing was less than fantastic.
Some other artists who stood out were Andrew and Patricia Croft. I loved walking past their booth and seeing the combination of their artwork displayed together. Andrew’s photos are fascinating cityscapes filled with bright lights and streaks of color to catch your eye and hold it there. Patricia’s work has a simplistic, otherworldly feel to it; the blurred smudges of lines blended into one another is captivating, seemingly timeless. Not only are they both skilled artists but they’re wonderful people to know—they’ve helped me reach out to the artist community of Wheeling many times, and they’re both strongly involved in the growing of the arts in their city. Wheeling is blessed to have people like them who care.
After taking in the artistry I went to the waterfront to sit in the sound booth and observe the performers getting ready for their show. My friend was helping run sound so I had a good seat to see everything going on.
Watching the first act, TarabRaqs, practice I paid little attention. They didn’t seem like something I’d be interested in—a family music and dance troupe. I was very wrong. Originating from Berkeley Springs, WV., Bob Peak and his wife, Jensuya, in their world travels, fell in love with Middle Eastern music and culture. What better way to share that love than to bring it back home? And so they did! Their two sons, Dakota and Lhasa, performed with them at the Arts and Culture Festival. Altogether they brought a charming taste of far-off worlds to this small valley and their show was one of the most enthusiastic, interactive, and friendly shows I’ve ever seen. Near the end of the show Jensuya had a “shake off”—where members of the crowd went onstage and learned a few steps of belly dancing from her. The joy on all of their faces as they ignored the crowd and simply had fun in the moment, letting themselves be vulnerable as they danced their hearts out was delightful to witness.
Next up was the band Squonk, and what a treat they were. Reminiscent of an old-fashioned-circus-feel they gave a fun and unique show that made many in the audience smile and gasp. Whether it was when the stage pulled apart into huge bicycles or when angry, smoke breathing, silver men reached out from the moving parts at the crowd, there wasn’t a dull moment. My favorite part about it all, though, would have to be the vibrant colors of the whole set; it brought everything together wonderfully.
As a bonus performance, girls ranging from adolescents to teenagers threw down the beats of hip-hop pop classics and danced like nobody’s business. Girls of all ages and sizes drew together in uniform and shared their gift of dancing with the world, even if only for a few minutes.
The day ended too quickly for me as I packed up my gear to head home. I forget too frequently how much goes on in Wheeling. I too often think that there’s nothing to do around here, but that’s far from the truth. There’s always something happening every day, some new band or restaurant to try, a new local artist popping up from the cracks and into the light. There’s always something to find. I’m thankful that there are so many people who want to make the place I grew up in a place where art thrives and is integral to the foundation of life here. I love being surrounded by people who are willing to help others grow and learn, to be a part of the arts movement happening in the deep recesses of Wheeling, West Virginia.
Photos by Monica Mull