Art in the Park returns, organizer Digel departs

After five years, Cathy Digel is stepping down from running Art in the Park.

“It’s been a really fun experience because I love getting to know a lot of the different artists,” Digel said. “So it’s fun — over the years, you get to see the same people year to year, and then each year we end up with a few new people too.”

Art in the Park is organized by VACI Partners, which raises money for scholarships that support students in the School of Art. The second show of the summer is from noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Miller Park. It is an un-juried art show — the only stipulation is everything must be hand made.

“It’s a very laid-back little show,” Digel said. “Anybody who wants to participate can. It’s a first-come, first-serve basis. The only glitch is if it rains.”

Digel started working with the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution when they first opened the Fowler-Kellogg Art Center opened in 2010, volunteering as a greeter and then a tour guide. She has served on the VACI Partners’ board for five years, despite the typical tenure being only two or three years. Now she is ready to hand the reins over to her successor, Margaret Dietly.

“Every year, I tried to do something a little different to make it a little better, and I’m sure she’ll do the same,” Digel said.

Now that she has completed her time with Art in the Park, Digel is looking forward to completing her master’s in educational psychology and getting involved with a documentary film festival in her hometown. She said she will still probably stay involved with VACI in some way.

“I so appreciate what people are able to do [with art]. I love when people come up with creative concepts,” Digel said. “That’s one of the reasons why I liked doing the tours: You learn all about the artist, and there’s always some story there.”

Through her work, Digel has brought more of those stories to Chautauqua for Art in the Park than ever before.

“It used to be we would say, ‘We just keep going until the show fills up,’ and sometimes that would be the week of the show,” Digel said. “But because of the popularity of the show, now we decided, OK, we are going to have a deadline before the season starts.”

Not only have the numbers of artists grown under her oversight, but the range of artists has as well.

“It used to be whoever was staying here would just walk over and plop their stuff on a table,” Digel said. “But I think as the show has grown and the reputation has grown we’re getting people from a little further away.”

As Digel prepares to leave, Art in the Park seems well-placed to continue growing and expanding.

“It’s evolved a lot over the years,” she said. “It used to just be all tables, and it was just sort of hodgepodge. Now I think, because so many people bring tents, it just looks a little more professional. And now when we get those occasional rainstorms, then at least everybody can stay dry.”