Bobby Johnson, 7 of Riverside, is intrigued by copper butterflies sold by a vendor at the 2013 Riverside Arts Weekend in Guthrie Park. | File 2013

Conceived eight years ago as a way to bring local residents downtown to patronize businesses, the Riverside Arts Fair has matured into a spring ritual in Chicago, turning up frequently on “best of” lists and drawing people from throughout the western suburbs.

And this year, with the expansion of the Wright Plus Housewalk into Riverside on the same weekend, this year’s version of the arts festival could be the biggest one yet.

The Riverside Arts Weekend — RAW — takes place Saturday, May 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, May 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Guthrie Park in downtown Riverside, just south of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks.

“I think the most exciting part in the last couple of years is the energy of the special projects that highlight what’s special about Riverside,” said Jean Sussman, the former village trustee who is president of the Riverside Arts Weekend board of directors, which has enlisted the help of 19 volunteer festival organizers and dozens of volunteers who help staff the event.

“There’s so much energy and so many volunteers who want to work,” Sussman said. “I hope it will continue to grow.”

The centerpiece of the weekend is the juried art fair, which this year features 74 artists who work in a range of genres, from painting and drawing to ceramics, glass, sculpture, jewelry, photography, fiber and mixed media.

Photographer Chris Neumer, who has carved out a niche as an artist who specializes in scenes of Riverside and surrounding communities, will be showing his work at RAW for the fourth time.

“This event and the car show in September are the days I get excited in the morning,” said Neumer, who last year chartered a helicopter to take aerial photos of Riverside and took a striking photo of the Riverside water tower popping through the tree tops from the top of the Hofmann Tower in Lyons.

“This year is going to be one of the best years because there’s so much going on in the village,” Neumer said. “Just being able to bring in so many more people is just fantastic.”

In addition to the art fair, a signature event of the weekend will be the fashion show, this year titled “Freedom,” which includes 66 creations from 16 professional and student designers. The fashion show takes place on Sunday, May 17 at 2 p.m.

“We wanted to have a more liberating show this year,” said Mary Ellen Park, who organized it along with Aberdeen Marsh-Ozga and Tariq Tamir, who designed the stage for the show. “People could be free to do what they wanted with the designs. It really opens things up to people who are expressing new work themselves.”

Throughout the two-day festival, the Riverside Arts Center will have a tent in Guthrie Park where kids and adults alike can make ornate, wearable masks with materials provided by the arts center.

There will also be live music both days of the festival, from the jazz of Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown (May 16, 11 a.m.) to rock ‘n’ roll from the Liz Berg Duo (May 16, 1:30 p.m.) to the country sounds of Just Coyotes (May 16, 4 p.m.) to the Brazilian jazz guitar of Paulinho Garcia (May 17, 11:15 a.m.).

A guided walking tour of the village, sponsored by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, will step off from the downtown train station, across the street from Guthrie Park, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 17.

The cost of the tour is $15, and was included this year to take advantage of all the visitors who will be in the area for the Wright Plus Housewalk on Saturday, said Sussman.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park will be handing out 1,000 brochures about the village to Wright Plus participants.

There will also be food and beverages for sale at RAW. Food vendors include Aunt Diana’s, Chocolate Twist, Empanadus, Fruit Blend Smoothies, St. Roger’s Abbey baked goods, Dinky Donuts and DeVries Groceries. Riverside’s 34 East Lounge will provide beer, wine and soft drinks.

Free parking is available on the street and the following off-street locations: Riverside Swim Club, 100 Bloomingbank Road; the village’s “green” parking lot, 61 E. Burlington St.; the Masonic Temple parking lot, 40 Forest Ave.; and the rear parking lot at Hauser Junior High School (entrance off Akenside Road).

There will be some parking in the Metra lot next to the train station across the street from Guthrie Park, but there is a fee for spaces available without a permit.

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