By Kristine Cannon

Every spring in Scottsdale, the flowers bloom, the Spring Training games are in full swing, and the Scottsdale Arts Festival opens to the public for three days with local art, family-friendly activities and nonstop live music.

This year is particularly special for the festival, which happens Friday, March 13, to Sunday, March 15, at the newly renovated 20-acre Scottsdale Civic Center Park.

It’s the Scottsdale Arts Festival’s 50th anniversary. 

And to celebrate and commemorate its milestone year, Scottsdale Arts Festival has commissioned longtime attendees and local husband-and-wife printmakers Stephen and Bonnie Harmston, known collectively as HarmstonArts, to create an original piece of art.

“When they came to us and said, ‘It’s the 50th anniversary, and we want you,’ it really does mean a lot to us because we have a real strong history with this show,” Bonnie says. “Of all the shows we do all across the country over the years, there’s a few shows that we have a real tender spot for, that we always get very excited to go.”

This year’s festival will showcase more than 180 jury-selected artists from around the world.

Attendees can experience and purchase works ranging from paintings, sculptures and ceramics to jewelry and photography.

Hands-on family-friendly activities include banana screen printing, a scavenger hunt, all-level yoga sessions, upcycled journal decorating and storytelling with the Scottsdale Public Library.

Festivalgoers can also enjoy live music and other entertainment on two stages by local and regional bands, including jazz-based collective House of Stairs on March 13; Southern California yacht rock band Yachty by Nature, short performances by teen dance groups from local Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale branches, and a silence disco on March 14; and the Vets Rock Band on March 15.

Other lineup highlights include the Sugar Thieves, Jovert and the Salt River String Band.

“The Scottsdale Arts Festival has been a part of Scottsdale’s DNA for five decades and has continued to bring the best in visual, cultural, performing and culinary arts nestled throughout the beautiful park,” says Jamie Prins, Scottsdale Arts Festival director. 

“The festival is Scottsdale’s oldest continuous arts festival and attracts a broad audience, from families and young professionals to retirees and discriminating art buyers,” Prins adds.

The Harmstons have nearly as long a history together as partners and as an artist duo as the Scottsdale Arts Festival.

Bonnie and Stephen met more than 40 years ago at Utah State University; they then purchased and moved into their Chandler home 34 years ago.

“There were six houses out here and nothing but farmland,” Bonnie recalls.

Stephen and Bonnie didn’t stay in the East Valley long, though, moving to Flagstaff and then to Seattle; but they always kept the house, and eventually moved back to Chandler.

“It was probably in ’96 when we officially became HarmstonArts,” Stephen says, adding that this is when he transitioned into a full-time printmaker and they began taking on more art shows.

Now, they do about 20 shows each year. 

“We do shows pretty much nonstop, and then we stay home in the winter,” Bonnie says.

The first time the Harmstons attended the Scottsdale Arts Festival was sometime in the early ‘90s. Since, they’ve been featured artists a few times.

“We have a real love for this show,” Bonnie says. “We don’t do very many shows in Arizona, period.”

Stephen adds: “A lot of people do well. It’s just this is not our market, oddly enough. It’s still to us is the best show in the whole state, period. It’s got the best quality of any show in the whole state.”

HarmstonArts also won Best in Show at last year’s Scottsdale Arts Festival, which Bonnie said was “huge” for them. 

“We won printmaking awards there in the past, but never in all the years we’ve done the show have we ever won that big of an award there,” she adds.

HarmstonArts is known for its aspens- and clouds-focused pieces; the commissioned piece for Scottsdale Arts Festival showcases the latter.

“They wanted the building in it. It was our idea to put the boosts in there,” Stephen says.

Guests can bid on HarmstonArts’ original piece, as well as other items donated by participating exhibiting artists, in the festival’s silent auction from 5 p.m. Friday, March 13, to noon Sunday, March 16.

In addition to the commissioned artwork, the festival and Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation has curated a retrospective exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary.

The retrospective exhibition, located in the ArtReach Space inside Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, features previous festival items, from photos, merchandise and posters to magazines and newspaper articles.

Other local artists include Roy Wasson Valle and Koryn Woodward Wasson, who will present their “Camp Dreamtree” at the festival for the first time. 

Presented by Scottsdale Public Art and Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation, “Camp Dreamtree” is an all-inclusive, interactive installation comprised of three main parts: a visitor center, a fire pit, and four stations/houses with self-guided and artist-led projects to take home. 

“Our goal is to continue to offer unique, experiential opportunities that will not only engage and inspire attendees, but (also) encourage a future generation of art buyers and collectors,” Prins says. 

As far as food and drinks are concerned, the festival will have plenty of it.

Vendors include popular food trucks and eateries, including 2 Fat Guys Grilled Cheese Truck, Be Crepeful, Biscuit Bombers, Dilla Libre, Eur Haus, Hibachibot, Mustache Pretzels, Paletas Betty, Short Leash Hotdogs, The Maine Lobster Lady and The Pizza Sloth. 

Fine wines, beers, cocktails and other beverages, including Milagro Tequila, Boochcraft Hard Kombucha and other featured Hensley Beverage products, will be available for purchase at three bars. 

Attendees can also bring their own reusable water bottles and use the city of Scottsdale’s water trailer for refills to stay hydrated.

“The city of Scottsdale has built a reputation as a community that values and supports the arts, and I am very proud that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Arts Festival,” Mayor Jim Lane says. 

“As one of our most popular and long-standing events, the Arts Festival showcases some of the most talented artist from across the nation. Our world-class community appreciates arts and culture, as evidenced by this event’s 50 years of success, and we look forward to further growth under the Scottsdale Arts leadership.”

Throughout the weekend, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) will offer free admission where its new spring exhibitions “Murmuration,” “Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined,” and “Unapologetic: All Women, All Year” will be on display.

And on display at Center Space inside Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is “i hear what you’re seeing.”

The festival attracts nearly 20,000 loyal visitors annually and is a major fundraiser for Scottsdale Arts. Proceeds support the performances, exhibitions, installations and arts education and outreach programs presented by Scottsdale Arts.

“We are proud to continue this legacy for Scottsdale and the surrounding communities. We hope the community will get involved in celebrating the 50th anniversary with us,” Prins says.

Scottsdale Arts Festival, Scottsdale Civic Center Park, 3939 N. Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale, scottsdaleartsfestival.org, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, $12.