- Matthew Thorsen
- Left to right: Julie Miller-Johnson and Hub cofounders Kristin Humbargar and Elissa Koop
This weekend, Essex Junction is going to get steAmy. And no, that's not a typo. A brand-new festival called steAmfest aims to transform a downtown best known for its five corners through a blend of art and STEM — that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Friday night's kickoff will offer live music and a village art walk, during which attendees can view art, make their own and participate in interactive exhibits. On Saturday, steAmfest will host the Artist Market on Railroad Avenue, along with the inaugural Essex Mini Makers Faire.
The coordinators of steAmfest are Kristin Humbargar, a founder of co-working space the Essex Hub for Women & Business, and Julie Miller-Johnson, a member of the Essex Economic Development Commission and former manager of the Five Corners Farmers Market. With this event, the women will highlight the talent that exists within Essex: Of the 40-plus participating artists, makers and innovators, 20 percent live or work nearby.
In advance of the event, Seven Days chatted with Miller-Johnson to learn more.
SEVEN DAYS: Where did the idea for steAmfest come from?
JULIE MILLER-JOHNSON: It was almost like a chemical reaction to my conversations [with Humbargar] about how the [Five Corners] Farmers Market was on hiatus for this year. What people really wanted from that market was community. I felt strongly that what the community needed was a different way to bring those people together, and steAmfest came out of that.
SD: Why the capital A in steAmfest?
JMJ: By putting the A in the middle of STEM, we're emphasizing what happens when you experience those fields through the lens of aesthetic[s]. It's also a little bit about how the influence of women in those fields influences the aesthetic.
All of the art and exhibits have some connection to science, technology, engineering or math, whether that's a very direct connection — say, tessellations in our steAmPods or the mathematical pi in stained glass — or more indirect, such as pencil drawings in response to climate change. All of the art that's exhibited will have a description and a bio that will help make the connection.
SD: What are you hoping to accomplish with this event?
JMJ: SteAmfest 2017, the Art of Disruption, is about disrupting the usual expectations of Essex, of art and of STEM ... Success for this event would be, a year from now, having a new, vibrant arts community in Essex Junction.
SD: What's the role of the Essex Hub for Women & Business?
JMJ: SteAmfest is a project of the hub. Kristin Humbargar, the [cofounder], has really been the creative director of steAmfest. The goals [of both] are one in the same. Both seek to support and cultivate small businesses — entrepreneurs in the creative economy.
SD: Can you explain the idea of creative economy?
JMJ: There are so many creative types who live here or pass through Essex and Essex Junction. We want to capture them in this community and cultivate this as a place where creative people live and work. The bigger part of that is that Vermont's growth and Essex Junction's growth as an economy is not in major manufacturing but in these small makers and creators. When we can bring together a group of creative people and give them a place to thrive, that is going to create a certain energy and economy in and of itself.
SD: What's on tap for steAmfest?
JMJ: Friday's art walk starts at 4 p.m. There will be one band performing every hour starting at 5 p.m. We will have an interactive music exhibit created by the Vermont Art Teachers Association, on exhibit until 9 p.m. We'll have a place for kids to make their own LED light-up wearables, and a button-making station at the library until 7 p.m.
Saturday, from 10 to 4, the Artist Market will be on Railroad Avenue. The street will be closed for the event. We'll have 20 vendors — artists and artisans, a performance venue, food trucks, and the Essex Mini Maker Faire. We're also really excited to be premiering a film by an organization called Majal about the underground music scene in the Middle East.