Crossroads of Creativity and Community: 48th Annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts Oct. 12-13

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts attracts up to 15,000 visitors each year. The festival makes a $5.9 million economic impact on the community. The Kentuck Festival of the Arts attracts up to 15,000 visitors each year. The festival makes a $5.9 million economic impact on the community. Kentuck Art Center

Since December, Tuscaloosa has been participating in a year-long celebration commemorating the bicentennial of both the city and the state of Alabama. 48 years ago, in 1971, Northport celebrated its centennial year, which included the Northport Heritage Festival held in downtown Northport. The Northport Heritage Festival met so much success that it became an annual event and led to the creation of Kentuck, an organization devoted to supporting and celebrating artists and their various art forms. The Festival’s name changed to the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, moved to the park where it is currently held, and has become a highly celebrated and widely known annual arts event. 

“It's one of the most well-respected festivals in the United States,” said Daniel Livingston, a long-time artist whose affiliation with Kentuck goes back almost to its inception. “It always gets very high rankings with the trade magazines that deal with arts and crafts, so it's very well respected.”  

The Kentuck Festival has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, ranked fifth in the nation in the category of “Classic and Contemporary Craft Shows” by Sunshine Artists Magazine, and was listed as a “Top 10 Event in 2018” by the Alabama Tourism Department, among several other impressive accolades.  

According to Kentuck Marketing Manager Ashley Williams, the success of the festival requires the efforts of their six full-time and one part-time staff members, three interns, the Board of Directors, a Steering Committee, and roughly 700 volunteers.  

“We pretty much start planning next year’s event a day or two after the current event ends,” said Williams. “We take a day off, then assess for a day, and go from there. We open up for artist applications March 1–June 1, and by the end of June or the beginning of July, we start really laying out the map and figuring out where people are going to go.” 

When an artist applies to the festival, he/she submits art samples that are scored by a jury of visual arts professionals based on Kentuck’s standards and the jurors’ interpretation. The highest-scoring applicants in each category are accepted for a total of more than 270 artists representing 14 artistic disciplines.  

“It's usually pretty difficult to get in,” said Livingston. “They keep the standards very high, which is good, so every booth is quality work.” 

This year’s Festival will continue the year-long bicentennial celebration. 

 “We have been incorporating the bicentennial into our planning,” said Williams. “We’re highlighting Alabama artists in ways we haven’t previously and we’re really celebrating this year.” 

Meet the Artist: Daniel Livingston 

Livingston is one of those artists. He moved to Tuscaloosa from Mississippi in 1973 and began taking art classes at The University of Alabama. Within a couple of years, he had pieces in the Kentuck Gallery that was at the time located in the Civic Center on Hwy 82. He has been involved with Kentuck ever since.  

Kentuck's outreach is getting bigger,” said Livingston. “One of the nice things about the Festival is that we have artists from all over the country showing out at the Kentuck Festival which brings a lot of diverse work to this area that normally you don't get to see.” 

Livingston’s art form of choice is raku pottery. This pottery style doesn’t always resonate with many artists because the challenges in its process create a greater risk of losing the piece before completion. For Livingston, that’s what makes it so appealing.  

“The challenge is what I like. If there's no challenge, there's no reward. You're asking the clay to do a lot of things that the clay doesn't want to do in the raku process, but that's what makes it fun, is to get a piece all the way through the process and get the finished product out. The reward is very substantial.” 

The entire process takes Livingston three to four days to complete, but the different steps allow him to work on multiple pieces at the same time. And while he draws out every piece before getting started, the raku style ensures a surprising result. 

“What I'm doing is I'm starving the piece for oxygen and playing with chemical reactions within the glaze. That's how I get all those different colors. I have an idea of what it's going to be just by the nature of what glaze I'm using, but it's always going to be these variables because just literally seconds can make a difference in how the piece looks. Like I said, that's the fun part of it. You have an idea of what they're going to look like, but each piece is like getting to unwrap a present.” 

Livingston will have a small portable kiln at the Festival and will be demonstrating raku firing. Once the kiln is hot, it takes about 15 minutes to fire a piece – so spectators can see pretty much start to end within 15 minutes. He will be one of 20 demonstrating artists at the Festival this year. 

Fun for All 

The Kentuck Festival has something for everyone. Kentuck for Kids occurs on both days where most activities are free. And for those who need more than artist booths, there are quite a few other attractions. 

“We have live music, spoken word, and lots of food trucks,” said Williams. “Our music lineup is really great this year. Tuscaloosa has a Sister City Program, and we have a high school band from Schorndorf, Germany, who will be in town that weekend, so they are going to be performing at the Festival.” 

The Festival brings up to 15,000 visitors each year to see the talents of artists from across the nation. Not only is it a cultural experience for everyone involved, but it also makes a massive economic impact on the community. This year’s Festival is Oct. 12 and 13, with $10 day passes and $15 weekend passes. Artists will have pieces available for purchase at the Festival and many have items for sale in the Kentuck Gallery.  

To purchase tickets or get more information about the Festival, visit kentuck.org/the-festival or call the Kentuck office at (205) 758-1257.  

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Druid City Living (DCL) is Tuscaloosa, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

 

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