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VOL. 122 | NO. 199 | Friday, October 19, 2007

New Festival To Replace, Build On Arts in the Park

By Rosalind Guy

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THING OF THE PAST: This scene from a South Main Art Trolley Tour night in May 2006 shows an interactive lights display on the tops of buildings. The exhibit was called "Inside/Out." -- Daily News File Photo

Mid-Southerners next week will have the opportunity to take part in the first RiverArtsFest, an event put together by some of the former organizers of the now-defunct Arts in the Park annual event.

The free three-day festival begins Oct. 26 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will take place in Downtown's historic South Main Arts District. The event coincides with the area's regular South Main Art Trolley Tour, which takes place the last Friday of every month.

Organizers anticipate between 8,000 and 10,000 people will show up for each day of the festival, said RiverArtsFest director Carol Watkins. Watkins previously served as a committee member for Arts in the Park.

She said it's been a few years since the last Arts in the Park was held, but Watkins and others felt there was a need for something like RiverArtsFest to celebrate artists and arts in the community.

"We knew that people were really missing Arts in the Park and that Memphis needed to have a fine arts festival," Watkins said. "All great cities have fine arts festivals ... the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver and the Coconut Grove Festival in Miami ... Memphis needs that."

Esthetic sensibilities

Watkins said the arts district is growing and gaining attention on a daily basis, so it just makes sense to bring something like the RiverArtsFest to the area.

The festival will include an invitational art exhibit at the Jay Etkin Gallery, a juried fine arts exhibition in Central Station's Great Hall, a juried artists' market with more than 150 artists from around the country, as well as other art-related activities.


Friday, Oct. 26, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 27, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission Free
Contact: 482-1399

Jay Etkin, owner of the gallery named after him at 409 South Main St., also was a member of one of the Arts in the Park committees. As a staunch supporter of Arts in the Park, he said he encouraged the transformation of the former festival to something that could be held on South Main.

The new festival will benefit business owners in the area as well as vendors selling products during the festival, he said.

"Even if a gallery has no particular event going on, just by being (in the South Main Arts District), they're going to get lots of traffic. And that is obviously very positive exposure from a crowd of people who are at least interested in the arts," Etkin added.

"We get big crowds sometimes and they're interested in just maybe a street event or a party or a social experience, but this really is more geared toward an art audience. And those are the people that we need down here; we need their support to make this neighborhood work."

Money isn't the object

RiverArtsFest, the nonprofit organization holding and promoting the new event, will derive little financial benefit from the festival, Watkins said.

She predicted the nonprofit agency would make about $10,000 or less. And the money it does raise will be put into an account for next year's festival.

"We're putting on this festival with money from sponsors and so the money that we make at the festival is going to be nothing, really nothing," she said. "We're operating under the tradition of Arts in the Park and that philosophy. We are supporting the arts - that's our whole goal, so we are not a money-making proposition."

Coors Brewing Co. and Stanford Financial Group are the event's main sponsors. So the nonprofit organization will make money from beer and wines sold during the event, but food vendors and artists involved in the artists' market will keep all the money they generate.

Off the beaten path

One of the big advantages to having the arts festival in the historic district is that many of the exhibits will take place on the pavement, instead of on grass or inside some of the galleries in the district, organizers said.

"When we were involved in Arts in the Park, mud would sometimes be an issue (at different venues)," Watkins said. "Or dust if it doesn't rain. You know, there's all sorts of issues that come from being on grass. So to be able to have it on the city streets was a real plus for us."

Etkin said he's optimistic there will be a big turnout for the festival and that people will have a good time.

"And I'm optimistic too, of course, that we'll have great weather," Etkin said. "I think in general we're heading for that cool, comfortable end-of-the month weather."

Watkins said RiverArtsFest committee members expect this to become an annual event that will always take place during October.

"We are really committed to growing this festival over the next five years to be a signature event for Memphis," she said.

To find out more about the RiverArtsFest, visit www.riverartsfest.org.

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