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. The preceding Wednesday (July 4) is America’s oldest Fourth of July celebration in Bristol with its renowned parade. After that, the Ocean State Tall Ships return from July 5 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. Paintings from festival founder John Huszer.
Speaking of festival founders, they had a little help in getting the event off the ground from none other than Paul Wilson of Wilson’s of Wickford, who was integral in the decision for the founding artists to create their own organization to support the event. In the spirit of the commemorating the festival’s history, a special exhibit will open at Wilson’s of Wickford with artwork from 10 families who were instrumental in the festival’s creation. Many of these pieces of artwork have not been displayed to the public for decades, said Watrous. The exhibit will open June 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. and will remain open throughout the festival.
This year’s program 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.
For more festival updates, follow the Wickford Art Festival on Facebook.