Since 1967, The Springfield Arts Council has presented the annual “Summer Arts Festival,” providing admission-free concerts, theater, and entertainment experiences from mid-June through mid-July in parks in downtown Springfield. During the late 1960s, the City of Springfield Parks Department provided funding to the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for a series of concerts at the band shell in Snyder Park. Jackson Wiley, conductor, of the symphony, used that as partial funding to start the Summer Arts Festival.
In 1967, Wiley gathered representatives from the local arts organizations and non-profits to raise funds for a full month of concerts, plays, and children activities in three park venues: the band shell and the large shelter house across from the lagoon in Snyder Park, and on a portable platform stage against the cliff’s in Cliff Park, now Veteran’s Park. In 1971 the Arts Council installed a permanent stage in Cliff Park, using volunteer labor and donated materials.
When the organization hired it’s first executive director in 1974, the office for the organization was located upstairs at the equipment barn across from the lagoon in Snyder Park. Festival programming continued for the next 15 years at all three locations. The City of Springfield withdrew tax dollars to support programming for the festival during the 1980s, at the same time they turned off street lights due to lack of funds. During the mid-80s, the festival consolidated its month-long festival to the stage in Cliff Park. Near the end of the century, a multi-purpose building was constructed to the west of the stage to house dressing rooms, a small shop and concession facilities. But eventually, artists and audience needed more to make their experience at the festival more enjoyable.
The renovations in Veteran’s Park, designed by internationally acclaimed architect Pietre Van Dyke, were completed in 3 phases. The first phase included a restroom/concession building on the east side of the amphitheater, completed in 2003. The second, and most major, was completed in 2005 and included an all new stage with a lighting canopy, a re-graded lawn seating area, lighting in the parking lot, and a technical productions building and deck at the rear of the amphitheater. Phase 3, completed in 2010 included a second restroom/concession facility and terrace to the west of the amphitheater.
The Springfield Summer Arts Festival and Veterans Park have become a time-honored tradition in Clark County. It has welcomed millions of visitors for free arts entertainment throughout the years.