File. Thousands packed Main Street for the annual Black Swamp Arts Festival. (Photo by J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)

The Black Swamp Arts Festival has been chosen as a co-award winner for the Governor’s Award for Community Development and Participation in the Arts in Ohio for 2023.

The festival will be honored during a ceremony in Columbus on May 17 for artistic and cultural achievement and the festival’s impactful and visionary leadership in Ohio’s creative sector, as well as its sustained dedication to promoting artistic excellence.

“We are thrilled to receive the Governor’s Award for Community Development and Participation. As an all-volunteer run organization, relying on hundreds of volunteers the weekend of the festival, this award is truly about our community, and we can all take pride for making the arts an important part of our lives,” said Todd Ahrens, BSAF festival chair.

The BSAF has been held in Bowling Green since 1993. Its ability to sustain its purpose of fostering the arts in the Northwest Ohio community factored into being selected.

In order to be considered for selection for the honor, the festival needed a nomination and letters of support from the community.

Mary Hinkelman, executive director of the Bowling Green Chamber of Commerce, submitted a nomination.

“Black Swamp Arts Festival has strengthened arts participation in our community for nearly three decades, providing free access to art and music, and welcoming diverse visitors and artists alike,” Hinkelman said. “It is an organization by its very mission that connects arts and community through an annual festival and related activities throughout the year.”

There were five letters of support from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green City Schools, the City of Bowling Green, Kiwanis Club of Bowling Green and Ben’s.

Floyd Craft, owner of Ben’s, described BSAF as a model organization in the community which supports other activities and events in the downtown.

The festival is “one of the most anticipated events of the year,” said Jason Miller, Kiwanis Club secretary.

BGSU President Rodney Rogers said that the festival is a “meaningful event that not only engages our regional communities and city, but also BGSU.”

Every year, a core group of 25 board members works to organize the free festival; there are 850 volunteers.

The festival is considered a major driver of the local economy. Approximately 40,000 people attend every year. An estimated 20% of visitors come from more than 100 miles away. In 2021, visual artists collectively made more than $500,000 in sales of their work.

“While the festival is an annual event, its planning committee and various city staff meet throughout the year to ensure a successful, safe, and accessible event…through exceptional planning, we have experienced very few surprises and have always overcome any challenges to accomplish our shared goals year after year,” said Lori Tretter, municipal administrator of Bowling Green.

BSAF provides scholarships to students studying the visual and performing arts in college. In 2022, the festival introduced a new scholarship for high school seniors planning an arts-ancillary course of study.

Dan Black, Bowling Green High School principal, said he appreciates the scholarships. He also said that the festival competitions for teens, like Beats on the Street for vocal performance and Chalk Walk for artistic talent, has “engaged students, while also providing monetary awards totaling approximately $3,000 to support these clubs annually.”

Throughout the year, BSAF finds partners to support the arts in the community. In 2020, they supplied a stage for an outdoor concert series, Downtown BG Live. In 2022, they provided support for Firefly Nights.

In 2023, the festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary, with plans to feature more than 150 professional visual artists, showcase the musical talents of professional musicians and students, and provide hands-on art activities for kids.

For more information on the festival, visit