How Festival of the Arts generates $28M in economic activity for OKC

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The 58th annual Festival of the Arts produced by Arts Council Oklahoma City opens Thursday with 144 visual artists, 80 of them new to the city.

Seth Lewis, festival director, said more than 200 new artists from coast to coast applied to exhibit after ACOKC cut the number of days for its signature event from six to four.

Garden art pops up near flowers Wednesday in anticipation of Thursday’s opening of the Festival of the Arts. (Staff Photo by Kathryn McNutt)

Festivals nationally run for three or four days and organizers heard for years that more artists would apply if that was the timeframe, Lewis said.

“We had a significant increase of new artists applying, but we’ll still have a lot of local favorites,” he said. “It’s a really balanced show. There’s no more than 20% of any medium here.”

The festival will include a youth art sale on Saturday with works by 30 emerging artists.

Showers gave way to sunshine as Lewis talked Wednesday morning amid the setup in downtown’s Bicentennial Park, home of the festival since 2016. The forecast calls for moderate to high chances of showers and thunderstorms throughout the festival.

“I like to call it a nice washing of the streets,” Lewis said, adding Oklahomans aren’t put off by spring weather. “The community always comes out to see us.”

The festival opens at 11 a.m. daily Thursday through Sunday with visual arts in 12 categories – including ceramics, mixed media, jewelry, oil painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography – along with culinary and performing arts.

Each day will feature a variety of free live entertainment on two stages. “A big thing this year is the collaboration of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and Oklahoma City Ballet for a performance at 8 o’clock Saturday night,” Lewis said.

Workers decorate the main stage erected in Bicentennial Park where a variety of live performances will take place throughout the four-day festival. (Staff Photo by Kathryn McNutt)

Among the 22 vendors that will be serving sweet to savory dishes along International Food Row are some new offerings, including A Taste of Africa, Bad Nonnas and Gilty Pleasure BBQ. Food vendors are paired with nonprofits to support their work.

Co-Chairs Jody McAnally and Pat Lewis led an army of 4,000 volunteers to prepare for what has become known as Oklahoma City’s annual rite of spring. “I’m just looking forward to getting this thing kicked off,” Lewis said Tuesday.

The festival is considered one of the largest and most successful in the country, drawing nearly 750,000 people and generating an average of $28 million annually, according to Kenton Tsoodle, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.

Zac Craig, president of Visit Oklahoma City, said it’s going to be “a well-rounded and exciting weekend in OKC” since this year’s Festival of the Arts coincides with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, Olympic Trials at Riversport and OKC Thunder playoffs.

“And with Embark’s streetcars and Rapid NW line offering complimentary rides throughout the weekend, our guests have the opportunity to seamlessly explore all of these only-in-OKC and only-this-weekend experiences, making their time in OKC truly unforgettable,” Craig said.

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