Each fall, RiverArtsFest hosts hundreds of nationally renowned artisans and thousands of Mid-Southerners to celebrate the fine arts during a two-day outdoor festival that is free and open to the public.
This year’s fifth annual RiverArtsFest will takes place in the South Main Historic Arts District in Downtown Memphis on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 23, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The festival features 160 artists, more than 50 live music performances and various art demonstrations.
RiverArtsFest is juried, meaning artists have to apply and be vetted before they can sell art. That’s because the mission of RiverArtsFest is to expand and enhance the reputation of Memphis as an arts-oriented community by attracting a sophisticated buying public to interact with talented artists from across the nation.
“Our primary purpose is to put a festival on and then take the money and in some way turn any money that we make back into the art community,” said festival director Carol Watkins. “We do whatever we can to try to bring more traffic into the (South Main) area.”
More than 80,000 people attended last year’s event that was cut short because of rain. This year’s expanded artist market will feature more than 175 juried artists who specialize in painting, photography, ceramics, glass, wearable art, toys, jewelry and more.
The 2011 festival poster artist is Dolph Smith, who retired from the Memphis College of Art in 1995 and whose home studio of 30 years was in Midtown. At the college, he taught painting, drawing in early years, and, in the late 1970s, developed a Hand Papermaking and Book Arts program called “The Flying Vat.”
After Dolph’s retirement, he was elected professor emeritus. In 2004, he was awarded Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts, Memphis College of Art.
Over the years, Dolph’s works ranged from watercolors and drawings into years of paperworks and sculpture. He’s now involved with creating one-of-a-kind handmade books.
Dolph has more than 1,200 works in collections internationally, including Japan and China, and has been featured in “Surface Design Journal,” “Hand Papermaking,” “The Complete Printmaker” and “The Penland Book of Handmade Books.”
Speaking of hands-on art, RiverArtsFest will have a station for artists of all ages to express their creative energies. Previous interactive projects such as hand-painted discs will decorate this year’s festival.
An artist-in-motion station along St. Paul Street will also feature demonstrations in glass-fusing, papermaking, watercolor painting, woodcut printmaking, encaustic painting, metal sculpture and more.
On the musical side, three stages will host a variety of acts by regional artists and street performers, all coordinated by the Memphis Music Foundation. Acts will cover the musical gamut: rock, jazz, blues, dance, rhythm and blues, jug band, Latin, soul, country, folk and classical.
In addition to onsite activities, this year’s RiverArtsFest will mark the fourth year of its Art in the Making project with the Memphis City Schools. Thanks to a grant from ArtsMemphis, the program is expanding to eight schools, and 10 RiverArtsFest artists will teach master classes in select city and county schools.
Because all profits go back into growing the festival and cultivating the arts community in Memphis, it’s entirely volunteer-run by more than 100 committee members and workers.
There are no RiverArtsFest employees, other than vendors and contractors. Funding is generated by event sponsorships, donations, grants and exhibitor booth fees.
“It’s very important to us to keep the festival free,” Watkins said. “We want to have it available to anybody and everybody in Memphis that wants to come. People can spend the weekend in South Main and really, except for eating, not pay any money. That’s a pretty good deal.”
For more information about the festival, visit www.riverartsfestmemphis.org.