NEW ALBANY — As both kids and adults gathered in a small dome on Saturday, orange and black wings fluttered about in every direction, landing on colorful benches, artificial flowers and people's heads. Later in the day, the monarch butterflies took off from the New Albany riverfront as they began their annual migration to Mexico.
These were some of the scenes at the Arts Alliance of Southern Indiana's ninth annual Monarch Festival & Art Fair, which took place Saturday at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater. The free festival featured a variety of art and food vendors, a beer garden and live entertainment, and throughout the day, attendees could spend time with monarch butterflies in a butterfly dome.
Brian Bell, president of the Arts Alliance of Southern Indiana, said the event featured about 50 artists, and about 10,000 were expected to attend. The festival started out small, but it has grown larger each year.
"With the Arts Alliance being a conveyor of arts in the community, this is our way to give back to the community and to the arts, and with our great sponsors that step up to help us put on such a great event, this is the largest artist turnout that we've had," he said.
This was the festival's first year at the New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater. The festival has taken place at different locations across Southern Indiana, and last year, it was in Utica to help with flood relief. Funds collected at this year's event supported the Arts Alliance and Hope from Harper, a Georgetown-based nonprofit that funds pediatric cancer research and care for cancer patients.
Bell said the festival shows that artists are not a "forgotten species" in the area, and as the nonprofit raises money at the festival, it is able to put it back in the community. Proceeds from the event will support programs such as the nonprofit's upcoming "Art on the Move," which will bring arts into schools, community centers and other parts of the community.
Education about monarch butterflies and their migration patterns was one focus of the event. Rob Roberts, owner of the the Louisville-based Butterfly Dome Experience, takes the butterfly domes to events throughout the eastern half of the country. On Saturday, he brought 200 monarch butterflies to the Monarch Festival.
"We're showing people how to let them go in [the dome], we talk about education and why butterflies are important pollinators," he said. "And then at the end of the day at 5 p.m., we will let them go. We always release the butterflies."
The monarch butterflies arrive in refrigerated containers delivered by FedEx, Roberts said, and "they are all healthy and alive." The butterflies are then released from envelopes into the dome, and people are taught how to use Gatorade to attract the butterflies. In the last few hours of events, attendees walk outside with butterflies perched on their hands or on paintbrushes soaked in sugar water, and they let them go.
"You usually do that with a sense of intention," Roberts said. "[It might be] for someone you know or something you're doing in your life ... a lot of indigenous cultures used the butterfly in their lore and their spirituality and things like that."
Roberts said when people are inside the butterfly dome, they are focused more on what's around them than their electronics.
"Kids aren't talking on their phones and people are communicating," he said. "You know what it does? It slows you down."
Louisville resident Nancy Anderson sold her jewelry at Saturday at the festival. Anderson lost her 17-year-old son, Austin Geisler, to suicide in 2011, and through her business, Wired Differently, she gives back to the community in memory of her son. She donates proceeds from her jewelry to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Her passion for jewelry began several years ago as she was going through grief counseling after her son's death. When she was introduced to art therapy, it helped her cope with her grief, and she taught herself to make bracelets, earrings and other forms of jewelry.
"In group therapy, we had a piece of yarn with these wooden beads, and I thought, 'wow, I don't know how this will help,' but it helped tremendously. I was concentrating on the pattern versus the negative thoughts, and through that, I started making jewelry, of all things."
This is Anderson's first time selling her jewelry at the Monarch Festival, and she feels honored to be part of the event, she said. The monarch butterflies also had symbolic meaning as she released two butterflies at the event, including one in memory of her son and one in memory of her late mother.
"It was incredible," she said. "It's a release of energy. Sometimes you have to let go to things you love, and metamorphosis is a good analogy. Things change. Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes you have to love and let go, and it's not easy to do, but that's what I had to do."