Mary Paulette has witnessed a lot of change as the Bayou City Art Festival has evolved into its current semi-annual format over its 43-year history .
But for Paulette, one thing about the festival has never changed — the art.
“We’re still about the art,” said Paulette, board president of the Art Colony Association, the nonprofit that produces the festival.
Indeed. What started in a parking lot in Montrose 43 years ago as a small neighborhood arts and crafts show is now a twice yearly fine arts fair — a spring festival in Memorial Park, and a fall festival downtown Houston.
More than 400 national and international juried artists will be showcased this weekend (March 28-30) as the Bayou City Art Festival transforms the South Picnic Loop in Memorial Park into a strollable outdoor art gallery.
Paulette said that this year’s spring event is bigger, better and different.
“Even people who have been coming for 40 years will see a difference,” she said.
For example, by using the entire South Picnic Loop, the footprint becomes bigger, she said, creating a more strollable event. The Children’s Creative Zone, an interactive art area, will be bigger.
And there’s an Adult Interactive Zone — “intentionally situated near the music performances and wine booths,” according to promotional material — where adults can try their hand at arts and crafts.
For the first time, there will be food trucks plying their wares, each with a signature dish created specifically for the festival.
Still, it’s about the art.
“You can buy nice art, not necessarily expensive but affordable nice art” at the festival, Paulette said.
The festival evolved as Montrose evolved, growing into the Westheimer Street Festival. And while the event still had art, it had no real structure, Paulette said.
That changed in 1986, when the festival became the Bayou City Art Festival. The festival moved near downtown in 1992, and, although always semi-annual festival, made its Memorial Park debut in 1997 while celebrating its 25th anniversary, giving the festival two locations.
Paulette credits the “father” of Bayou City Art Festival, the late Jay Hollyfield, with establishing a board of directors, whose vision kept the event alive as a fine arts festival rather than a street fair.
The festival is collaborative in another way — it has 15 non-profit partners who share in the proceeds. Bayou City Art Festival has raised more than $35 million over the years for its nonprofit partners.
The festival’s partners also provide many of the 1,200 volunteers it takes to run the event.
“That’s one reason why the charity partners are so important,” said Paulette. “They provide volunteers, but they also share in the proceeds.”
Paulette said that many volunteers are long-time workers at the festival.
“They like being a part of it,” she said.
Then there’s the popular Art Heist, the “fundraiser within the fundraiser”, a separate ticketed event on Sunday afternoon where patrons participate in a drawing and “heist” selections from more than 100 juried pieces of art.
The festivals have the reputation of being in the top 10 events of its kind in the nation, and recently won nine awards from the Texas Festivals and Event Association.
It receives more than 1,500 applications per festival from artists; more than 400 are selected by a jury. The artists work in 19 media formats, and art purchases are more than $6 million annually.
The festival is supported in part by grants from the city of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance.