Visiting the First Ever Epcot International Festival of the Artsby Alan S. Dalinka, contributing writer
The first-ever Epcot International Festival of the Arts began its six "Disney-weekends" run this past Friday at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.* This new Festival at Epcot celebrates Disney-inspired visual artists, culinary artistic creations by Walt Disney World chefs, and the performing arts, including Disney's Broadway songs and artists. Epcot Vice President Melissa Valiquette said, "This Festival is really an extension of the wonderful cultural experience that our guests get everyday at Epcot, but this Festival allows us to celebrate the arts on an even greater level."
*According to Melissa Valiquette, "Disney-weekends" include Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. MousePlanet was invited to attend several opening day media events where I had the opportunity to hear from and talk to several of the Festival organizers as well as to sample some of the Festival's offerings. I also roamed the Festival on my own on Friday and returned on my own on Saturday.
Epcot's entry floral display now is themed to the Festival of the Arts. Disney PhotoPass photographers now can take at least two new "magic shots" that include Figment in this location. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Like the other recent Epcot Festivals, be sure to pick up a Festival Passport along with a park map and times guide to get all of the details of the Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Although in some ways similar to past Festivals, and seemingly organized over a rather short period of time (especially when compared with the long-running Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festivals), the Festival of the Arts provides some new and unique experiences at Epcot and, indeed, promises to offer a number of changing attractions during each of its remaining five weekends (through February 20). Melissa Valiquette explained the passion behind the creation of this Festival:
My team and I don’t just operate this park. It’s important to us for you to know that we love this park. We are Epcot fans. Everything we do at Epcot is to make sure that Epcot is the absolute best it can be. And this Festival, for us, has been a passion project; it’s been a labor of love. We couldn’t be more excited about it, and, we hope, sincerely, that you love it as much as we have loved creating it for you.
Visual Arts (Including Merchandise)
The Festival celebrates Disney visual artists past and present. Disney recommends starting a Festival visit at the Odyssey Festival Showplace which is located between Test Track in Future World and the Mexico pavilion in World Showcase. (Note, this is not the former Wonders of Life pavilion which has been used as the Festival Center for Flower & Garden and Food & Wine Festivals, nor is it the "World Showplace" which is located between the Canada and United Kingdom pavilions in World Showcase.) Inside, classes are offered in several subjects, including animation and photography.
Seminars offered on Festival weekends at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. are complimentary with park admission. Interactive workshops offered on Festival weekends at 11:00 a.m. require an additional fee and reservations are strongly recommended (call (407) WDW-TOUR). Additional Quick Study Sessions are offered at the Japan pavilion on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. Additional details can be found on a page on the official Walt Disney World website.
Seminars, such as "Disney Animation Ink and Paint Cel Art" presented by Lynn Rippberger, a long-time Disney Ink and Paint Show Artist, are included in park admission. In this seminar, Lynn discusses the differences in production cels; limited edition and reproduction cels; and sericels and serigraph works. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The Odyssey Festival Showplace is also home to two new galleries celebrating Disney Legends, artists Mary Blair and Herbert Ryman. Adjacent to each of the galleries are the "Disney Original Art Gallery" where works created by Disney artists are sold.
Like its other Festivals, Epcot also celebrates the visual arts with themed merchandise and, not unexpectedly, Figment plays a rather prominent role here too. A scavenger hunt named "Figment's Brush with the Masters" sends guests around World Showcase in search of famous paintings into which Figment has painted himself. Scavenger hunt maps can be purchased at Pin Central and Disney Traders, and completed maps can be redeemed at Disney Traders for a "surprise" Figment souvenir.
Disney Parks Merchandise Communications Manager Steven Miller discusses some of the merchandise and related activities at the 2017 Epcot International Festival of Arts. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Disney Artist Joe Kaminski at the 2017 Epcot International Festival of the Arts talks about his love of being a Disney Artist and some of his work. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Kidcot stops also have new activities related to the Festival, and there is an interactive mural that allows guests to help create it by painting by number.
Guests help create a giant mural at Expression Section along the World Showcase Promenade (which also cross-promotes the remaining Innoventions exhibit: Colortopia by Glidden). Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
In Future World West, Disney Artists Brian Thore Brimmer, Sr. and Doreen Muir are creating a mural over the course of the Festival that they say will be offered for sale in pieces after the conclusion of the Festival. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The Fairy House Ladies, including Ronda Maseman, have participated in the Flower & Garden Festival in the past. They will be in a tent on the World Showcase Promenade making and selling their crafts during some of the Festival weekends. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Culinary Arts (Food & Beverage)
As Epcot Executive Chef Michael Deardorff explains, for this Festival, the Epcot culinary team got to do something they were previously told that they were never going to be able to do: they are taking complex fine dining experiences and bringing them to the quick service "Food Studios" around World Showcase. While it does mean that folks have to wait a little longer than usual for their food, the culinary team believes it will be worth the experience.
Unlike the other times Epcot has food kiosks around World Showcase where much of the food is nearly completed offstage, dishes served at the "Food Studios" are assembled and plated in front of guests. My experiences at the kiosks on the rainy opening day was that the presentations were worth the wait and some of the food items were incredibly tasty too (see the photo captions for my comments).
Epcot Executive Chef Michael Deardorff discusses the culinary arts on display (and the food and beverages available) at the 2017 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
A trio of savory croissant doughnuts are available at The Painter's Palate Food Studio inside Odyssey Festival Showplace and include whipped herb cream cheese with sea salt (my comment: different), chicken mousse with fresh herbs and everything bagel seasoning (my comment: a different take on chicken salad that was surprisingly tasty); spicy tuna with sriracha mayonnaise and sesame seeds (I did not try this one, but other folks seemed to really like it). Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The wild mushroom risotto was worth waiting more than ten minutes for during a rain downpour. It was awesome and not something I typically would order. Sorry that the rain and my poncho prevented me from getting a photo of the plated dish. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The Artist Palette jumbo chocolate-chip cookie is hand-decorated for each guest upon ordering at the Cuisine Classique Food Studio. (My comment: the colors are all the same flavor frosting and it is a better-than-store-bought cookie.) Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
At Pop Eats Studio, the almond frangipane cake was inspired by the painter Piet Mondrian. (My comment: it is tasty but, like the cookie, the colors are just food coloring, the flavor here comes from almond, chocolate and berries between the layers.) Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Performance Arts (Live Entertainment)
The Festival celebrates the performance arts through both local and Broadway talent. The highlight of each day of the Festival, no doubt, will be, in partnership with Disney Theatrical Productions, the brand new "Disney on Broadway" Concert series. Over the six weekends, for two weekends each, Epcot presents a different pairing of Broadway talent: last weekend and next weekend, Ashley Brown, the original Broadway Mary Poppins, joined with Josh Strickland who originated the role of Disney's Tarzan; the following two weekends feature Carrie Butler (known for performing Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast) and Kevin Massey (known for also performing Tarzan on Broadway); the final two weekends feature artists from The Lion King: Kissy Simmons (best known for performing Nala) and Alton Fitzgerald White (longest running Mufasa on Broadway). Each of the performers sing not only songs that they are known for, but "beloved songs" from many Disney Broadway shows.
Show Director Marsha Jackson Randolph, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Creative Entertainment (and, also a former Broadway performer herself), discusses many of the entertainment offerings at the 2017 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
Ashley Brown, Disney's original Mary Poppins on Broadway sings Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with Josh Strickland, Disney's original Tarzan on Broadway at the Epcot International Festival of Arts. They are also scheduled to appear January 20-23, 2017. Video by Alan S. Dalinka.
It should not be surprising that Disney is bringing "Frozen" to Broadway. Ashley Brown and Josh Strickland's duet version of "Let It Go" was refreshingly powerful notwithstanding how often the song is played around Walt Disney World. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
The Fountain Stage in Future World is the daytime venue for many different performances. In association with Disney Performing Arts, College and High School Jazz ensembles and American Music Machine perform throughout the day.
The Living Statues gracefully change position from time to time but, when posing for pictures (or posing your children in front of them for pictures), guests should be mindful that they are living people. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Three visual performance artists are also scheduled to appear on the Fountain Stage during the Festival. Meanwhile, around World Showcase, artists will create a Walking Chalk gallery in select locations (weather permitting). The Festival also marks the start of three new music acts in Canada, Germany, and Morocco.
The Canadian band Badh'aktan is scheduled to performs on The Mill Stage at the Canada pavilion January 18-22, 2017. Their unique blend of rock inspired celtic and folk music is pure Canadian. Video by Donald Fink.
Photographing the Art(s)
In addition to the usual Disney PhotoPass photo opportunities, one of the unadvertised but very fun activities of the Festival is to actually step into works of art. These photo opportunities take the hand-held frames that the photographers have been offering guests for some time several steps further. The photographers encourage all sorts of specific ways for guests to interact with the photo spots that are located around the World Showcase Promenade as well as one located in the floral planter box in Future World's Fountain Plaza. As always, guests can request the photographer take photos with personal cameras in addition to the Disney PhotoPass camera.
Summarizing the Festival
The Inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts runs Fridays through Mondays through February 20 during normal park operating hours and is included with park admission (though, of course, some activities, food, beverages and merchandise are extra). While opening day on Friday was rainy and not particularly any more crowded than the park had been during the other January weekdays, Saturday proved quite crowded—similar to weekends of the older Festivals. If there are large crowds during your visit, be mindful that the "Food Studios" are presenting "Fine Dining" experiences that take longer than ordinary (so-called) quick-service food. Cast members I spoke with on Friday reported that the majority of guests awaiting food were, for the most part, quite patient about the wait times. As I like to say, your mileage may vary.
On the whole, I was very impressed with this new Festival and will be interested to see how it grows in future years. I also will continue to bring additional (hopefully interesting) photos of this year's Festival to MousePlanet's weekly Walt Disney World Resort Updates, so stay tuned.
Epcot was very crowded on Saturday, and with parking still reduced by the runDisney-related facilities that occupy a part of the main parking lot at this time of year, the parking lot was nearly full at 5 p.m. and Preferred Parking had sold out in the morning. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.