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By PAUL J. SPETRINI
NORTH KINGSTOWNâIt would be hard to blame Francie Christophersen if her focus isnât exactly on this yearâs Wickford Art Festival.
Now in its 49th year, the Festival has become one of the signature summer events in Rhode Island and, next year, for the big 50th anniversary, Christophersen and her cohorts at the Wickford Art Association are likely going to want to pull out all the stops for that special milestone.
But Christophersen isnât taking her eyes off this year. Not quite yet. Thereâs just too much to do and too much to see to in order to make this weekendâs festivities live up to the reputation the festival has garnered the past 48 years.
âIâve been thinking about that for the last few months, the big 50th, but I keep focusing on the 49th because this is such an important year,â Christophersen said Tuesday. âWe have a beautiful influx of artwork from artists that came in just from this area alone and I was excited about that because we were able to fill all our spots so my concentration is on this year, making it the best ever and it will roll into next year.â
The Wickford Art Festival, which has been ranked the top arts festival in New England by Sunshine Artist magazine and is routinely called one of the best in the country, takes place this weekend throughout Wickford and is expected to attract between 50-75,000 people on both Saturday and Sunday.
So what sets the Festival apart? According to Christophersen, itâs all about the setting, the organization and the art itself.
âIâm proud to say that we got our [top-ranked] status by the artists themselves,â she explained. âThey usually will write into the different art magazines to say how much they enjoy the festival, how organized it is and the prestige of it and the people coming, that is a big part of it. People in this area are very art savvy. They know good art when they see it and I think we have very fine artists in our show.â
The Wickford Art Festival is a juried show, meaning artists have to apply to enter it and, once they are accepted, have to go through the process again every three years in an effort by the Wickford Art Association to keep the work presented fresh and inspired.
âItâs a pretty high standard that youâve got to meet to get in and because itâs such a small village, we are sort of capped to certain amount of spaces so, those that come, stay,â she said. âA few years back we decided to do a three-year jurying process for the artists so theyâd be very comfortable knowing that once theyâre juried in, theyâre in for the next two years and it keeps their art to a high standard because they have to be juried every three years to come back. I think that process has worked for us and I think thatâs what keeps the top artists coming back every year.â
This yearâs Festival will feature over 200 artists from all across the countryâwith states like Florida, Arizona, Ohio and New York all representedâas well as from every state in New England and even several artists expected to come in from Canada.
That wide variety and wide reach helps the Festival stand out in both the art community and among tourists deciding what to see in a summer full of big events.
âI think thatâs why people come to the show,â Christophersen said. âThey know what to expect, they know itâs going to be the same every year and itâs no hassle.â
Like with every big event, the final week before the show, thereâs always a concern about what could go wrong. In the past, the Festival has had to fight poor weather, tough economic conditions and even an Ironman triathlon that severely hampered traffic patterns and made getting to the show a near impossibility.
This year, the biggest obstacle appears to be parking as the North Kingstown Town Hall continues to undergo its makeover, eliminating the use of anywhere between 50-60 spots normally available for festival goers.
Christophersen insists sheâs ready for the challenges, however.
âYeah, well, with a show this big, you expect something to happen and you just have to be focused and try to figure it out on the spot,â she said. âThings pop up, it happens, you have to go with the flow.â
Christophersen advises anyone struggling to find parking to park at North Kingstown High School and make the short walk up a couple blocks to the show.
And, if youâre going to the show, be sure to plan your day around it. Thereâs a lot to see.
âI would say come early,â she said. âI would just take it slow. Itâs a nice, quaint, small village so you donât have to meander, you donât have to rush through, you know youâre going to see the whole thing. Make a day of it.â
The Art Festival takes place from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday throughout the Village.