As a major entertainment and creative venue for local artists and art enthusiasts alike, ArtsFest 2010 promises to be bigger and better than ever before, with a schedule of events spanning live musical entertainment, art galleries, a chili cook-off and hands-on activities for the kids.

Marking the festival’s fourth year, the event will be held Tuesday through Oct. 3 in downtown Conway, on the campuses of the University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College and at the Faulkner County Library.

The event began in 2007 at Simon Park with a dedication of the Conway City Hall mural "Aurora Rising" and has grown exponentially since, with more than 7,000 attending last year’s festivities.

"Four years ago, some people from Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas and Central Baptist College got together and got some other groups of people who were interested in the arts together and decided that we needed an alliance to keep a calendar and to let each other know what was going on and what to promote in the areas of the arts," said Becky Harris, executive director of Conway Alliance for the Arts.  

Harris said the first ArtsFest was held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of UCA. 

"It began as a half-day event, and now it’s six days and 70 opportunities for people to participate or observe," Harris said.

Perhaps the most notable dynamic at ArtsFest this year is the event’s sharing of the downtown area during the Riders of Arkansas Rally, a gathering of an estimated 4,000 motorcyclists from across the state Oct. 1-3.

"I think it’s going to be fantastic," said event chair Vanessa Simmons. "I think they’re going to bring a lot of energy and excitement. In the beginning we were really nervous about how it was all going to unfold, but they are also thinking family-friendly."

Simmons said ArtsFest organizers are planning to incorporate several crossover activities throughout the festival.  

"I think our main goal is to do something fun for the community," Simmons said. "We are really wanting to display the vast number of local artists — everything from visual arts to dance to music — in one central location. A lot of people ... don’t realize the talent we have here in Faulkner county."  

Festival highlights include:

• ArtsFest begins Tuesday with the season-opening concert of UCA Public Appearances at Reynolds Performance Hall, featuring music by the Conway Symphony Orchestra conducted by Israel Getzov. Joining the performance are The Three Phantoms, a Broadway tenor group. The concert will include selections from classic musicals, including Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera. Tickets are available for purchase at the Reynolds box office at UCA or online at http://uca.edu.ticketforce.com.

• UCA will sponsor the return of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band of New Orleans to Conway at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1 at Simon Park. The band incorporates funk and bebop into traditional New Orleans style. The event is free and open to the public.

• Area civic clubs will vie for the title of Chili Champion during the second Conway Civic Club Chili Cook-off Challenge. Taste-testing is allowed for $5, with proceeds benefiting CAFTA. An accompanying bake sale will support Rotary Clubs’ End Polio Now efforts.

• Arts in the Park returns this year with free, hands-on activities for children, including sidewalk chalk, watercolor painting and yarn activities. 

• Artists around the world will exhibit their work during "A Night of 1,000 Drawings." These small works on paper will be on display in a free exhibit at Conway City Hall Gallery and be for sale at $5 each, with proceeds supporting the Conway arts.

• A collection of chairs designed for CASA’s annual Festival of Chairs will be on display at ThatChurch during Friday night’s ArtWalk, which will also include a children’s parade of art, street musicians and art displays in downtown businesses.

• Festivities will conclude at 3 p.m. Sunday, with a piano recital by John Krebs at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Krebs is the associate professor of music at Hendrix College. Donations go to preservation of historic home.

ArtsFest is a project of the Conway Alliance for the Arts, sponsored by the Log Cabin Democrat, Conway Corp., the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau, Strange Family Properties, and Mary Ruth and Jeffrey Marotte. 

Affiliates include the University of Central Arkansas, Central Baptist College, Hendrix College, the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, Conway Public Schools, the Conway Symphony Orchestra, the Conway League of Artists and the Conway Community Arts Association Theatre.

Volunteers are still needed, and those interested should contact Emily Mitchell at mitchellew@hendrix.edu.

For a complete, interactive schedule of events, visit www.artsinconway.org.

(Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net or by phone at 501-505-1277. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net)