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In eighth year, Duluth community embraces Barefoot festival

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Vyjayanthi Burma, 7, of Alpharetta performs a traditional Indian dance called Bharatanatyam during the eighth annual Barefoot in the Park festival at the Town Green in downtown Duluth on Saturday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Vyjayanthi Burma, 7, of Alpharetta performs a traditional Indian dance called Bharatanatyam during the eighth annual Barefoot in the Park festival at the Town Green in downtown Duluth on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan A dancer moves the rhythm with bells strapped around her ankles while performing a traditional Indian dance called Bharatanatyam during the eighth annual Barefoot in the Park festival at the Town Green in downtown Duluth on Saturday.

DULUTH -- Under clear blue skies, the booming percussion line and brass section of the Gwinnett Community Band began the festivities at Duluth's Town Green.

The eighth annual Barefoot in the Park, a festival for art lovers, brought crowds of people, their children and pets, to take in the event that's woven its way into the community.

"The community has begun to embrace this festival," said artist Cher Austin, who makes glass and watercolor artwork, and is an eight-year veteran of the event. "They come because they know the quality."

If not for the artwork, other attractions included a beer garden, two performance stages and art lessons for children and adults. Among the other six performances on the main stage were the Kalaivani Dance and Music Academy, an Indian group, and the Stone Mountain Chorus, a barbershop quartet group.

But the art is the backbone of the event.

Director Caryn McGarity said her inspiration was to bring the arts she grew to love in Chicago, to Duluth and the surrounding region. Her message is that the arts are not intimidating, and kids who are introduced to art are known to perform better in school. The community has embraced the event, as the crowds of 10,000 to 15,000 for the weekend attest.

"We want to stimulate the public to something new," McGarity said.

The weekend began on Friday night at the return of Barefoot's gala, which returned from a two-year absence because of the recession. The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

Proceeds from the event go toward art grants for students, and scholarships. McGarity said the event has given back about $43,000 in its eight years.

One way to introduce students to the industry is show the professional artists on display and, "how to get it from the classroom to the market."

Students from Georgia Gwinnett College, Norcross High School, North Gwinnett High School and Peachtree Ridge High School entered artwork that was judged similarly to the juried festival in the next group of tents.

Volunteer Johnnie Rowe was amazed at the quality and depth of the student pieces. She raved at nearly every one, from mixed media to welding, to water color and pencil.

"The teachers are on board this year," said Rowe, who has served on the Board of Directors for The Hudgens Center for the Arts. "It's amazing to me how these kids turn this stuff out."

Like Austin, Suwanee resident George Howell has participated in the event to display and sell his watercolor artwork. Howell said the organizers haven't grown the event to a degree that it's diluted.

"Their heart's in it because they love art," he said. "Most shows try to grow and bring in more money."