Over the course of fifteen years on the art-festival circuit selling his gold jewelry designs, Mark Beling has cultivated a kinship with his fellow artists. But he has little tolerance for one type of festival participant: the huckster who skirts his cardinal rule that artists can sell only what they create themselves. So patrons of the three Breckenridge Mountain Arts Festivals that Beling stages with his wife, Judith Pollock, are secure in knowing they’re not just shopping for a work of art; they’re buying into the artist, too.
“Patrons can feel who that person is, how he creates,” Beling says. “When an artist stands in front of you, you can ask these intimate questions. People want that special touch.”
In his view, allowing artists’ representatives to staff the booths, rather than the artists themselves, turns a festival into a flea market—a dirty word to Beling, who cites his attendance requirement as the primary reason his festivals are as popular as they are, attracting crowds, in the case of the Gathering at the Great Divide, of 35,000 or more.
Of course, from another perspective it’s Beling who’s the interloper: many Breckenridge gallery owners aren’t exactly pleased that a festival operator muscles in on their turf for three plum weekends each summer. But Brian Raitman, owner of Art on a Whim, appreciates Beling’s work, attesting, “It brings in the kind of crowds we want, a crowd coming strictly to look at art.”
The ultimate stamp of approval? Among the artists represented by Art on a Whim are several that Raitman discovered at Beling’s festivals.
Breckenridge Mountain Arts Festivals Three main events (July Art Festival, July 5–7, Main Street Station; Main Street Arts Festival, July 26–28, Main Street at Wellington; Gathering at the Great Divide, Aug. 31–Sept. 2, Main Street at Wellington) all feature more than 100 booths staffed by painters, sculptors, jewelers, and potters hawking artworks made by their own hands. mountainartfestivals.com