After successful event, organizers look toward next Free State Festival

Concert goers brought blankets to sit out on the grass in front of the stage outside of Cider Gallery, 810 Pennsylvania, to listen to a concert featuring multiple artists during the Free State Film Festival Friday evening.

Good things came from expanding the Lawrence Arts Center’s annual film festival into the larger, longer, multidisciplinary Free State Festival.

For one, movies sold out for the first time, film curator and Arts Center digital media director Marlo Angell said. Also, more sponsors and people involved meant more word of mouth: “This year, everybody knows we had a festival,” she said.

The first Free State Festival — pitched as “a celebration of film, music, art and ideas” — took place Wednesday through Sunday with events around downtown and the Lawrence Cultural District.

Organizers estimate attendance at more than 12,000, but that number is imprecise.

“So much was outdoors, free and ephemeral — which was the idea of the event,” Lawrence Arts Center CEO Susan Tate said.

Street performances by blues musician Johnny Winter and dance troupe Quixotic drew some of the biggest crowds, Tate said. She said other highlights included the St. Luke AME choir performing with the Matt Otto Quintet and artist Michael Arthur, outdoor projections on public landmarks and films followed by panel discussions.

“It was as engaging as we had hoped,” Tate said. “The Free State Festival is meant to celebrate the ideas and creative energy that make Lawrence distinctive, and it worked.”

Next year’s festival is tentatively set for June 21-28.

Angell said she’d like to plan more films paired with other art forms, such as the Winter concert occurring immediately after the screening of a documentary about him. She’d also like to offer more animated films for kids, as the family zone and screening of “Ernest & Celestine” proved popular as well.

The festival fell on the same weekend as the annual Tour of Lawrence bicycle race.

That made for tricky logistics when it came to choosing race routes, said Fred Conboy, president and CEO of Destination Management, which comprises the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

Conboy said he’d prefer to see future events on separate weekends, although overcoming logistical challenges this year meant visitors saw Lawrence at a “peak moment.”

“There was really more on the menu for everybody,” he said.