‘Everyone wants to be on Main Street:’ Longtime arts festival marks return as new fair begins

April 8,2022


See full KERA news article by Marcheta Fornoff here.

Downtown Fort Worth will see an influx of art Thursday through Sunday as the Main St. Fort Worth Arts Festival returns to downtown after a two-year hiatus, and the Fort Worth Art Fair makes its debut in Sundance Square.

The 35th edition of the Main Street festival will stretch across much of its namesake road between the Tarrant County Courthouse and convention center, and the Fort Worth Art Fair will be in the middle at Sundance Square.

Both festivals are free to the public (though the Fort Worth Art Fair has $100 VIP passes for sale), and will showcase visual artists and include live performances. Despite their close proximity, they’re two separate events.

Local jewelry maker and glass artist Cary OKeefe will be showing some of her work at the Fort Worth Art Fair, and she recalls participating in the inaugural Main St. festival more than 35 years ago.

Robert Bass is credited with starting the Main Street festival in an effort to breathe new life into downtown, and, OKeefe said, the event delivered.

“It was a great show. I did it for several years after, and then I got juried out,” OKeefe said. “And I tried for many years to get back in, but I was consistently juried out.”Over the phone, Jay Downie, events director for Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc., touted the involvement of local artists in the festival and said that 31 of their 212 artists are from Dallas-Fort Worth. He also described the selection process.

“It’s a blind process, so when they select the art or the artists, they do not know who the artist is or where the artist is actually from,” Downie explained. “So the goal of the jury is to select quality artists from around the country and from the Fort Worth market, so everyone has an equal opportunity to join the event.”

Some local artists, like furniture designer Tom Diel, have found success at the show.

“I decided to do the show in 2011 and won best emerging artist,” Diel said. “From that award and my success there, I quit my full-time job designing corporate furniture. And now, I set up shop in this little studio full time since then. I won Best in Show in 2013 and a few other awards since. This is going to be my 10th show because it was canceled in 2020 and 2021."

Diel, who has a studio on Vickery Boulevard, said the festival is his main marketing event every year.

“It’s a huge part of my bottom line. I tracked it back, and 40% of my annual sales over the last 10 years were due to Main Street Arts Festival or they led from the Main Street Arts Festival,” Diel said. Ceramicist Gregory Story also said that event is a big deal for his bottom line and can account for up to a quarter of his annual income.

“It’s one of the best art festivals in the country. It’s so competitive, so difficult to get into the show,” Story said. “Everyone wants to be on Main Street. It’s just one of the best, most highly regarded festivals there is.”

Story lives in Chicago now but lived in Fort Worth for 25 years and considers the Main Street festival to be his home show.

For Story, the way the event is run is what sets the festival apart.

“Sometimes at an art fair as an artist, I’ll feel like I’m just wallpaper for a beer festival,” Story said. “That’s not the case here. There’s plenty of all that, but he [Jay Downie] takes care of the artists. He listens to us to make sure that he gets an audience to us. He has all sorts of programs over the years to try to help us sell art and, you know, to do our jobs.”

Bryan Eppstein, a spokesperson for Sundance Square, and Ruth Meharg, deputy director for the Fort Worth Art Fair and Sundance Square community advocate, spoke about the variety of initiatives developed by Sundance Square’s owners, from pandemic programs like “Sounds of Resilience” and “The New Normal” to a downtown mural program. They said it was through the application process for those initiatives that they got a better idea of how many artists live and work in Fort Worth.

“We had so many submissions from so many artists,” Meharg said. “We didn’t even realize how much talent there was in Fort Worth. You know, people were saying, ‘All these artists, they can’t be from Fort Worth. They must be from out of town.’ No, they’re all Fort Worth; we have all of these really quality artists here.”

Initially, the two groups were in conversation about working together, but the number of local artists remained a sticking point.

“So the decision was made that Sundance would continue its community support of our local art community, visual artists and musicians by dedicating the plaza from April 7-10 for Fort Worth artists, for North Texas artists,” Eppstein said.

When asked about the Fort Worth Art Fair, Downey said, “We’re looking forward to whatever they bring. I think that would have been nice if they had chosen another weekend downtown to have two events in sequence that people could enjoy. But, you know, we’re focused on bringing the Main Street Arts Festival to life. We’re moving ahead, and we feel very confident with our event, and the two will work together.”

When the dust settles, local artist OKeefe hopes that people will reflect on the events and see the value of both.

“We are supporting the local artist. We are letting Main Street pursue the national artist,” OKeefe said. “But the ultimate winner is the public because they are receiving a much richer art experience by having both shows than by having one or the other.”