SKOWHEGAN — The sky looked as though rain was coming Saturday afternoon at Bigelow Brewing Co., but that didn’t stop families from gathering to enjoy local food, artists’ demonstrations and activities.

And beer, of course, for those old enough to enjoy it.

The second annual Somerset Family Arts Festival brought together people from the region to celebrate the arts and culture, and to help raise money to develop a cultural plan for the region. The festival is hosted by the Wesserunsett Arts Council, which is an umbrella for three different groups: the Open Arts Studio, which is a committee of visual and performing artists that oversees events in the region; the Somerset Cultural Planning Committee; and HooSkow Radio, a community radio station. Saturday’s event, which was held at Bigelow Brewing Co., offered a variety of activities, including children’s book readings, artist demonstrations, local food and live music.

Margi Browne, vice chairwoman of the Somerset Cultural Planning Committee, said the event is a fundraiser that also highlights the artistic and cultural offerings of the region. Browne said the committee is in the final stages of writing a cultural plan for the region, which has brought together data from three polls of what area artists, businesses and residents want to see for the region’s cultural future and what would be most beneficial for artists.

“We are pinpointing areas of focus,” she said of the plan’s development, which will help the artistic offerings of the region grow.

Jon Kimbell, chairman of the Somerset Cultural Planning Committee, said last year’s festival was so successful that they were able to add a Cheese, Brews and Bread Festival, which was held in June. He said the hope is to keep both festivals going in the future. The Family Arts Festival at Bigelow was a chance for residents and visitors to discover how integral the arts are to their daily lives.

“Events like this keep us in front of the public,” he said.

He said there will be two more committee meetings before the cultural plan is complete, at which point implementation would begin.

Kimbell said Saturday’s festival was focused on families and children. He said it’s important to get art into children’s lives early, since that’s the way to make valuing art a lifelong trait. The festival served to raise money for the professional help necessary in developing a plan.

“The plan will touch on everything that makes us who we are,” he said.

The festival scene was laid-back but jovial, with multiple tents set up for artists to show off and sell their work. As wood-fire pizza was being cranked out of an oven, those attending spread out around the grounds. Some were sitting listening to a musician sing folk songs. Children ran around from tent to tent. Other visitors bellied up to the bar for Bigelow’s brews.

“We’re trying to brand Somerset County as a rural county rich with a cultural life,” Kimbell said.

He said by marketing the artistic and cultural offerings the region has — such as diverse food and restaurant offerings as well as a strong arts scene — they could show off Somerset County as a good place to raise a family or come to retire.

“There’s so much here that can give you a full and rich life,” Kimbell said.

The Wesserunsett Arts Council, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1994 to bring more concerts to Madison High School, Kimbell said. Its mission is broader now, supporting artistic and cultural leaders as well as serving to develop the cultural plan. Kimbell said the group also is doing a lot more work with Canada, developing communications to market the region as a place Canadians want to visit, and not just pass through.

“We’re making those connections,” he said.

And though rain seemed almost a guarantee, a good beer goes a long way. Norridgewock resident Dominique Rollins and her friend Emily Mathews, of Gorham, were enjoying their brews Saturday afternoon. Rollins said she had visited the brewery a few years ago and “fell in love.” She said she wanted to bring her friend to show off the brewery, and the festival was as good a time as any.

“I’m very excited. I don’t come here often,” Rollins said.

The two said they prioritized beer and wood-fire pizza first, and would go explore the artist tents afterward.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis


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