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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Wickford Art Festival, July 1998
Wickford Art Festival, July, 1998 Photo by Ernest A. Brown III, courtesy of North Kingstown, Rhode Island Standard Times

Wickford Arts Festival

In the summer of 1961, a small group of Wickford, Rhode Island area artists put together a small sidewalk show on Franklin Street in Wickford. Buoyed by its success, they decided to form an organization later that year -- the Wickford Art Association -- to make it an annual event. The first Wickford Arts Festival was held in 1962, when 50 artists exhibited a total of about 1500 paintings. That first year, an estimated 7,500 - 10,000 visited the Festival.

Now in its 38 year, the Wickford Art Festival has grown in size, prominence and prestige. Artists from around the world compete for the few coveted spaces that become available each year, though a percentage of the space is guaranteed to local artists who are members of the Wickford Art Association. Attendance is now close to 100,000 annually, and the works of over 250 artists are exhibited. With the additional attraction of being located in an historic seaside village, the Festival has been ranked the number one fine arts festival in New England.

Sponsored by the all-volunteer Wickford Art Association, it has maintained and strengthened its community ties, utilizing the efforts of local Boy Scouts, the Rotary Club, and several Wickford churches who offer free coffee and donuts to the artists setting up their exhibits. They also sell a variety of local foods, including clam chowder and clam cakes prepared with Rhode Island's ubiquitous mollusk, the quahog. Neighbors provide food, drink and even shelter when needed to artists when the weather threatens. Proceeds of the Festival are used to fund college scholarships awarded to local high school seniors who are interested in pursuing careers in art, and to operate the Wickford Art Association Gallery.

Through the years, the Festival has remained true to its original intention of providing local artists with a venue for exhibiting and selling their work. Rhode Island has the most artists per capita of any state in the country, and the makeup of Festival exhibitors strongly reflects the State's artistic heritage.

Documentation comprises a 12-page report, setting forth a history of the show by each decade of its existence, 25 photographs, newspaper clippings and memorabilia from various Wickford Art Festivals, including posters, exhibitor cards, artist applications, maps, letters, invitations, brochures, programs, postcards, tee-shirts from the 1992 and 1999 festivals, and a 1985 art festival pin.

Originally submitted by: Robert Weygand, Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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