"The annual wingding known as Masterpiece in a Day has evolved throughout its decade-plus history, but one of the coolest new features of this year’s event is a simple one: the date.

Organizers of the artsy Fountain Square street festival, traditionally conducted the third weekend in September, opted instead to roll a week later, to Saturday, Sept. 23, and thus loosen up a sometimes frustrating log jam in the city’s cultural calendar.

The festival’s nerve center is at Prospect and Shelby streets, but the activities – rain or shine – radiate out for many blocks from morning to night. Area merchants often extend their hours and tout special offers.

As always, the centerpiece of Masterpiece is a real-time arts competition, presumably inspired by the sights and sounds of the day. Painters set up their easels on the sidewalks of the historic neighborhood. Writers hunch over their notebooks and laptops in the diners. Musicians pick guitars in the alleys.

By 3 p.m., they all must submit their work for judging by expert panels, with the top three entries in each category claiming cash prizes. The visual arts competition will award $1,000, $400 and $200 in each of its two divisions, representational and non-representational. The writing competition has been consolidated into a single death match that includes fiction, nonfiction and poetry, with prizes of $500, $200 and $100.

Likewise, the music competition, which randomly pairs individual entrants in a test of their collaborative abilities, will pay $500, $200 and $100 to each member of its respective first-, second- and third-place teams. The contestants perform beginning at 3 p.m. on the central stage, which will host other live entertainment throughout the day.

The event’s primary sponsor is Southeast Neighborhood Development, the not-for-profit agency that promotes the revitalization of historic Fountain Square and surrounding neighborhoods. Beginning last year, SEND has contracted the logistics of Masterpiece in a Day, the flagship of its many public events, to Big Car, a not-for-profit arts collective.

A notable change this year is the expansion of the art fair area. The idea was introduced last year, when the Masterpiece organizers sold booth space to a handful of artisans and community groups. This year, however, the outdoor space was offered free, and more than 50 local artists are making use of the opportunity.

Yet another new feature is the Masterpiece in a Day After Party, which begins at 8 p.m. in Big Car’s gallery and performance space in the Murphy Arts Building. The winning artwork and writing will be on display, and live bands will include New York’s The World Without Magic and The Station Myth, along with local act Resting Rooster.

Emphasizing the festival’s family-friendly nature, the children’s activities will be a bit more substantial this year. Sugar Buzz, a Broad Ripple-based business that specializes in kids’ parties and play care, is donating its services in providing games, face painting and other such attractions. For info: www.discoverfountainsquare.com or call (317) 450-6630.



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