It started as sidewalk art show organized my local artists in 1962. Today, it’s one of the most well-known art festivals in the region with 250 artists and 30,000 to 50,000 people forecasted to enter the village over the weekend from New York to New Jersey to California and even Canada. This year’s Wickford Art Festival, however, promises to be one of the biggest yet as the event celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“From what really began as one artist putting his paintings and art out on the street, it has just turned into something that has impacted the community in a really positive way,” said Festival Co-Director Rich Watrous.
Though the festival is always a draw to art lovers throughout the northeast, the week of the festival happens to coincide with other big name events in the state. This past Wednesday was America’s oldest Fourth of July celebration in Bristol with its renowned parade. After that, the Ocean State Tall Ships are set to hit the waters of Rhode Island through July 9. Smack dab in the middle of it is the 50th Wickford Art Festival on July 7 and 8.
“We have three waterfront communities where something big is going on that week,” said Watrous. “It’s a great package of events. To me, that’s a selling point.”
Though the planets may have aligned to create jam-packed week in Rhode Island during the festival, Wickford Art Festival’s directors are upping the ante to a month-long celebration of the history of event, including an exhibit at Wilson's of Wickford featuring the works of the festival's founders and first artists.
This year’s program brochure is also expanded, serving as a memorabilia item filled with articles about the beginnings of the festival and the changes it’s undergone throughout the decades – including how the festival was almost relocated out of the village after participation ballooned to 410 artists during the 1980s. (Festival directors now cap participation at 250.) While compiling this year’s brochure, directors used the same format that was used in the early years of the festival. But, during their examination of the old brochures, they discovered something.
“Some of the original sponsors are still in today’s program,” said Frederica McLaughlin, festival director. “Bart’s Carpet, McKays, Paul Bailey.”
So what is it that sets Wickford’s art festival apart from the rest? Unlike similar events throughout the region, Wickford’s festival is strictly a fine arts festival – meaning you won’t see tables filled with crafts and certainly won’t find any “Made in China” labels.
Opening reception is scheduled for Friday, July 6. Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, July 7 and 8