By ANDREW MARTASIAN
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN– Nearly 200 artists from around the country will show their work at the 50th Wickford Art Festival this Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In some places around Wickford, the festival has already begun. To celebrate the Festival’s anniversary, several displays of past-year’s artwork are already up at Wilson’s of Wickford and the North Kingstown Free Library.
“It all started right across the street,” said Paul Wilson, of Wilson’s of Wickford.
Wilson says he has seen every past festival and his store is hosting the exhibit, “The Way We Were,” which features art from some of the event’s original artists.
“The quality of art has certainly kept up over the years and the artists really seem to enjoy coming here,” he said.
Scattered throughout Wilson’s are old paintings and signs from the early festivals. The exhibit will run through July 8th.
Wilson said the show benefits the local shops and churches by bringing a large number of artists and visitors to Wickford. He is happy to support the show because “in this day in age, everyone needs as much support as they can have.”
Festival Director Rich Watrous believes the local economy benefits even if people don’t buy something during the festival because the event reminds people about what Wickford has to offer.
“You’ve got to bring life to a community to make it come alive,” Watrous said.
Wilson said the show is a great family event that everyone can enjoy.
“It’s done without any problems, and that’s always good,” Wilson said.
A show as large as the Wickford Art Festival, with artists coming from as far away as California and Canada, needs a lot of planning to run smoothly.
That’s where Watrous comes in. Watrous, who has been planning the festival since February, has a temporary headquarters set up on the corner of Brown Street and Phillips Street.
Inside his shack, he plans the final details of the show and sells t-shirts commemorating the festival’s anniversary.
“It’s been challenging because this being the 50th anniversary we had to reach out beyond just setting up the festival,” Watrous said.
An advocate for the arts in Rhode Island, Watrous has run other art festivals, but Wickford’s was unique, he said, because he had to learn the show’s history.
He helped put together a newspaper for the Art Festival with information about the show’s original artists and past festivals, as well as maps of this year’s event.
The festival “has been many different things in its history,” Watrous said.
The show gives young artists an opportunity to start showing their work, but also features many experienced artists.
“You have artists who have been around for a very long time, and now they’re older and mature artists and they were 17 or 22 when they started [at the festival],” he said.
One of his duties as festival director is to decide who gets to show their work. At one time, there were over 400 artists at the festival but that number proved too large for the town. Now, a maximum of 250 artists are allowed.
On the wall of his headquarters, Watrous has a map of artist locations. Just about all of them are filled in, but he still has a few artists whose places are not finalized.
“It’s like planning a huge wedding party,” Watrous said.
This year, the show will feature 50 Rhode Island artists and 150 will be from out of state as artists come from all over the country to show their work in Wickford.
Just about every form of art will be represented at the show: photography, etchings, painting, music, sculpture and others that defy classification.
If you’re looking to buy art at the festival, the price range will vary drastically. Watrous said that although there may be pieces available for $50, many could cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars in some cases.
“The thing is with Wickford, is it’s trying to stay true to its fine art tradition,” he said.
Hungry art enthusiasts can stop by St. Paul’s Parish Hall or First Baptist, both on Main Street, for food.
“The best food vendors of course are the churches,” Watrous said.
Visitors to the festival can expect to park at Wilson’s Park, Wickford Elementary School or Wickford Middle School.
The rotary club will help with parking and will charge a $5 donation at those locations. Shuttle busses operated by the YMCA will run from the parking lots at the two schools though Brown Street to bring people to and from the festival.
The North Kingstown Police, meanwhile, released a set of guidelines earlier this week for parking throughout town.
Parking will not be allowed on either side of Main Street or Brown Street from 5 p.m. on Friday until the completion of street sweeping operations at approximately 8 p.m. on Sunday. Overnight street parking will also be restricted on West Main Street (from Newtown Avenue to Brown Street), Franklin Street, Spink Street and Elam Street.
Handicap parking during the weekend will be available in the main municpal parking lot of Brown Street. Those who wish to use this service are advised to make their handicap situation known to the parking lot attendants at the Brown Street entrance and they will be directed to the appropriate area.
Lastly, artists may park at the Wickford Elementary School on Phillips Street or Wilson Park.
According to Watrous, the 50th anniversary is a good time for people who have not been to the event in a while to come back and “celebrate what it was through the years.”
“The festival has moved through and lasted through all the ups and downs the world has offered for 50 years, which is pretty cool,” he said.