The Atlanta Dogwood Festival celebrates 81 years of tradition

The 81st Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival will take place in Piedmont Park, April 7-9, 2017. The festival will showcase artworks of all kinds, live music, and even a a disc dog competition. Photos Courtesy of Atlanta Dogwood Festival

On the weekend of April 7, Midtown’s Piedmont Park will once again overflow with Atlanta residents celebrating the spring season. The city greets the blooming of its iconic dogwood trees with the 81st Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival.

This highly-anticipated three-day event began in 1936 as an effort to raise international awareness for Atlanta by establishing a reputation for urbanization balanced with foliage and greenery.

Walter Rich, founder of Rich’s Department Store and president of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, collaborated with community members and local garden clubs to plant trees all around the city, and as a result, the spirit of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival was born.

Spring has sprung

Over 80 years later and the festival’s essence is still very much alive. Nowadays, the spring event not only embraces the city’s lush environment, but also welcomes artists and craftsmen from around the United States and Canada to showcase their work.

“The Atlanta Dogwood Festival is the third oldest fine arts festival in the country, and the longest running in Atlanta,” Executive Director Brian Hill said. “We’ll feature … fine artists from throughout North America, and each one has been selected through our stringent jury process.”

Hill said that a lot of these artists use the long winter months to complete new collections for spring. For this reason, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival is the first market show of the season for many of the selected artists.

“That means our attendees can have first choice of new pieces [the artists] have created,” Hill said.

Offering a unique and memorable experience for all Atlanta residents, the annual artist market is home to a diverse landscape of creativity.

The 2017 event will feature an abundance of market booths with exhibits from “some of the country’s top painters, photographers, sculptors, leather and metal craftsmen, glass blowers and more,” according to the Atlanta Dogwood Festival official website.

It’s art for art’s sake

Lanna Rudeseal, a Georgia State graduate and the artist market coordinator for the festival, said that more than 1,000 artists apply each year.

“Our jury panel of professional artists and art educators selects the top 260 … [applicants] who create and execute original, professional quality work,” Rudeseal said.

All of the selected artists must be present during the festival, meaning that attendees have a chance to meet the creators of the art they may purchase and bring home.

“It adds something special to a painting or piece of jewelry when you have actually spoken with the artist who made it,” Rudeseal said.

Local high school students are given the opportunity to participate. An exciting festival event since the early 70s, the Atlanta High School Art Exhibition (AHSAE) engages young artists in a competitive event with great prizes.

More than 700 students enter their work to compete at the festival exhibit, but only 100 are selected and given a chance at awards contributed by AHSAE donors. Internships, art supply funds and scholarships are merely a few examples of what’s at stake during the competition which will be held at 1 P.M. on Sunday, April 9.

Attendees of the 81st Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival will experience more than just the wide array of artist booths.

“In addition to our Artist Market, the festival features live music, international entertainment, a disc dog competition…the Mimosa 5K, a fireworks display, rides and fun activities for children,” Hill said.

The Coca-Cola Main Stage caters to Atlanta music lovers with an impressive lineup of bands that will fill the sweet, spring air with multiple genres all weekend long.

April 7 will feature a Southern Rock Revival and April 9 will see a performance from Departure, a Journey tribute band.

“Since attendance at the festival is free, the live music is too,” Hill said. “It doesn’t get much better than a free outdoor concert, a cold drink, and gathering under the blooming dogwoods!”  

To enhance this relaxing experience – and to satisfy the inevitable hunger that accompanies an all-day outing – festival attendees will have a seemingly endless amount of food vendors to choose from each day. Corn dogs, funnel cakes, onion rings and many other fair-style treats will be found all throughout Piedmont Park.

However, fried foods do more than fill empty tummies at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. The entire weekend is powered by generators that operate through recycled cooking oil from the food vendors.

A fest to feel good about

These operations, among others, are due to the Green Festival Initiative. The initiative is maintained through a partnership with Live Thrive Atlanta, a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable, healthy environments.  

“Since founding this initiative in 2011, we’ve been able to divert more than a ton of trash from landfills,” Hill said. “And [we] have educated hundreds of thousands of attendees about how to make eco-friendly practices a part of their daily lives.”

The sustainable atmosphere is just one festival benefit that makes this seasonal event so cherished by those involved. Peggy Whitlow Ratcliffe, executive director of Live Thrive Atlanta, said that it is amazing to be a part of an Atlanta tradition.

“Getting to know the team that makes the festival happen has been the reward,” Ratcliffe said.

Hard work from event coordinators has certainly paid off. Sunshine Artist, a magazine offering reviews of the country’s leading arts festivals, ranked the Atlanta Dogwood Festival as No. 9 out of the top 200 North American artist markets in 2016. The event’s increase from No. 28 in just one year is a prime example of why it is such a beloved Atlanta affair.

Last year’s 80th anniversary unveiled just how near and dear the event is to the city’s heart. Showcasing eight decades of tradition, the festival commissioned an art installation in Piedmont Park. Exhibited near the Charles Allen park entry, the commemorative bronze sculpture displays a massive dogwood branch with blossoming flowers. The festival’s website says that the sculpture has become a “favorite selfie spot” for park visitors.

Another picturesque festival feature will surely be the life-sized Hall of Fame sculptures that the Atlanta Braves have chosen to premiere at the 81st Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival.

Unique displays, talented artists, jumping dogs, inflatable bouncy houses, good tunes, VIP events and, of course, free entry are all expected to bring in over 85,000 attendees at this year’s spring celebration.

With plenty to do for all ages, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival is sure to keep Atlanta locals entertained all weekend long.

The 81st Annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival hours

Friday, April 7: Noon – 11 p.m.

Saturday, April 8: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Sunday, April 9: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Artist market closes at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday

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