The festival, founded in 1972 by Jim Westbrook, Bill Ford, and Gus Staub, all at the time art-loving Tupeloans, was an overnight success, and it has flowed seamlessly through the retirement of its founders, generations of new volunteer and professional leadership, and affiliation with the GumTree Museum of Art in downtown Tupelo.
It is inarguable that the festival has broadened and deepened appreciation for the visual arts in Tupelo and across the Northeast Mississippi region.
The festival weekend is a major tourism draw, and thousands will attend at least one day of the event, beginning tonight at 7 with the GumBall ($25), a gala at the Goodlett Manor, a refurbished and historic former residence adjacent the Lyric Theatre on court square.
This year, 88 artists from many states have been approved by jurors to enter their creations in the festival, which offers cash prizes and is a usually successful venue for sales of works by the entered artists.
Some of the artists have exhibited for many of the festival’s 40 years. Some patrons have built personal collections by buying from their favorite artists each year or within their preferred artistic mediums like clay or precious metals.
One intent in founding the festival was to create a venue where “artists could come and interact with their patrons, (and) where the community as a whole could view a wide variety of artists, media, and engage in discussions about that artwork,” the festival’s website explains.
Westbrook passed the festival torch after 25 years to Tina Lutz when she became executive director of GumTree Museum of Art, and Kit Stafford became museum and festival director in 2010.
The festival, which for decades occupied the courthouse lawn, has moved to the street on all four sides of the square. Festival treasurer Jim High said the general reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Admission is free. The only costs are what patrons spend on food and art.
Schedule May 6
- 7 p.m. GumBall, Goodlett Manor (admission fee and silent auction)
- 9:30am – 5:30 p.m. GumTree Festival
- 11 am – 12 p.m. Singer Songwriter Awards Showcase on Romie’s Singer Songwriter Stage
- 5:30 p.m. – until Artists Awards Dinner on Goodlett
- May 8
10:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. GumTree Festival
4 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Youth Writing Awards/ Youth Scholarship
Awards on TVA/ Renasant Bank Youth Stage