Word of mouth, tradition keep Prairie Arts Festival thriving

September 1, 2012 7:48:09 PM



WEST POINT -- Despite the threat of rain, thousands of people turned out for 34th annual Prairie Arts Festival in downtown West Point on Saturday, and though it did sprinkle a few times, it was the humidity that kept every brow glistening. 


"Today is particularly bad," said Kathy Dyess, a festival volunteer and West Point Arts Council board member, as she fanned her face with her hand. "It's not usually this bad." 


Good thing nearly every one of the more than 30 food vendors was serving freshly squeezed lemonade. 


The Prairie Arts Festival has been recognized as one of the largest of its kind, not only in the South, but in the country. Each year Sally Kate Winters Park and the streets that border it are packed. 


The festival boasts more than 600 exhibits, that included everything from a mechanical bull to funnel cake stands to some of the South's most impressive displays of folk art and craftsmanship. 


Dyess said vendors and visitors come from all over to take part in the two-day event. 


"It's mostly the Southeast -- Mississippi and Alabama -- but people come from Tennessee, Florida and Missouri, too," she said. "We are thrilled to have vendors who come back every single year, because they know they are going to do well here because everyone knows about it. They know it's going to happen on Labor Day weekend, rain or shine." 


Ronald Lewis is one of the newer vendors. Saturday marked the Birmingham painter's second trip to West Point for the festival. Lewis is listed in "Who's Who in American Art" and his work has been featured in a number of galleries across the United States, as well as in Tokyo, Japan.  


Lewis said he has been to countless art festivals, and said some of the really high class ones can be a little stuffy. The Prairie Arts Festival sticks out because of its unique blend of world-class art with a very family-oriented environment, he said. 


The fine art competition the festival holds gave away nearly $5,500 in prize money. There was also a car show, a 5-K run, "Kids' Town" with games and inflatables, and more than 300 booths filled with yard art, jewelry, clothing and countless other hand-made goods. 


"We have just been doing this so long, people just know," Dyess said. "The reputation is out there. You know you can come and have a good time, get some great food, and know that our vendors aren't gouging you -- because it's the South, you know." 


Like many of city festivals, Prairie Arts relies on the generosity of volunteers to help it run smoothly. 


"We always have such a huge variety of volunteers," Dyess said. "We couldn't do it without people giving their time to us."