Metro-East Living

Year after year, ‘so many people just want to help’ at Art on the Square

A crowd gathers around the booths on the West Main Street section of Art on the Square.
A crowd gathers around the booths on the West Main Street section of Art on the Square. Derik Holtmann/BND

Volunteering at Art on the Square is “just such a neat experience,” says longtime volunteer Mary Jo Foerste, of Belleville.

“So many people just want to help; they don’t care if they’re giving out bottled water or putting up tents. They just want to help. It’s like a reunion,” Foerste said.

The News-Democrat talked to Foerste and another longtime volunteer Julie Harvey, of Belleville, who puts together the juror panel and judges for the show, for some insight into the experience.

Harvey said there are usually between nine and 12 jurors who select artists to be invited to the show; this year there will be 103 artists at the Art on the Square, which runs Friday through Sunday in downtown Belleville.

Volunteers can sign up online at

Here’s what the two longtime volunteers had to say about the annual festival:

Q: How early do you get involved?

Harvey: “We start again in August. I try not to think of the show in June and July.”

Q: How many Art on the Square entries will you see?

Harvey: “We had about 600 entries this year.” That’s about normal, although “it varies from year-to-year with competing art shows.”

Q: What do the jurors do?

Harvey: “Jurors give us a pool of about 103 artists — that is our invited list. We go from 600 to 100; it’s a big job for a juror. And they take if very seriously, which is why we like scoring the show online. That allows them to look at it over a series of days, preliminary scoring. They don’t take it lightly, and it takes a fair amount of time.”

Q: What’s wonderful about Art on the Square?

Foerste: “My favorite story to everyone, is on Friday I’m just a gofer. I will do anything anyone wants me to do, if it’s picking up a sign and moving it, I’ll do that. I just stay in Patty’s (Patty Gregory, executive director of AOTS) shouting distance. I did bows one year for all the vendors. I’ve always done the hospitality, going around with the girls with the carts and passing out the food. Just kind of anything that Patty wants or needs done to keep her from doing it.”

One year “it rained cats and dogs, and it was still successful. People don’t give up. ... They were told to volunteer and by God they’re going to do it.”