Kentuck Festival of the Arts hits Northport for 51st year 

Augustus Barnette, Staff Reporter

Every year, just a few miles north of downtown Northport, tucked away in the woods of Kentuck Park, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts occurs. Usually around mid-October, this year’s Kentuck Festival struck the weekend of Oct. 15.  

Costing only $15 for the whole weekend, or $10 for a day pass, the festival brings together live music, interactive experiences and nearly 300 artists. Typical fair food can be found inside the park, along with local beer from Druid City and Black Warrior brewing companies, as well as other refreshments.  

Not only is the festival a place to discover new artists, but it also features spoken word events, numerous musical acts throughout the festival and immersive art experiences, in which the artists demonstrate their techniques or allow onlookers to participate. 

According to the Kentuck website, the festival has been called one of the top ten events in the state, was named the fifth best festival in terms of artist sales by Sunshine Artists Magazine, and has been featured in Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, Southern Living and more. These publications are not the only people raving about the festival, as both artists and patrons alike all seem to love the festival.  

Kendra Bennett, a paper cutter from Daphne, Alabama, slices designs into paper with a precision blade and sandwiches them behind glass. Bennett has been an artist at Kentuck Festival of the Arts four times but has not been in attendance for a number of years.  

“There’s a large diverse group of artists so it’s you’re always seeing something new and something fun … There’s a lot of different things to look at here,” Bennett said.  

Bennett’s sentiment is shared among many at Kentuck, including Turner Porter, a retired school shop teacher and woodturner based in Elmore County, Alabama. Porter has participated in Kentuck three times now, having only begun doing shows in 2016. 

“People are friendly, it’s a real good site. I enjoy it and the people appreciate what we do. All of this is salvage wood, storm damage and stuff,” Porter said. “We’re not just pushing stuff off in the ditch and letting it rot where someone’s going to burn it up. I hate seeing good, pretty pieces of wood burnt up.”  

In comparison to some, folk artist Marian Baker is a veteran of Kentuck, even prioritizing the festival over family functions.  

“I’ve told people in the family if you want me to come to your family function, it better not be Kentuck weekend. If you pass, I’ll give you kudos on that, but I’m coming to Kentuck. I’m not going anywhere else this weekend,” Baker said.  

Baker has been an artist her whole life but found folk art around 14 years ago. In line with folk art, which is a handmade art form typically created by artists who are not classically trained, Baker is a storyteller.  

“It’s always known if you’re going to do art of any form, you have to be true to yourself. You have to be knowledgeable in it, and I’m thinking ‘I know my family, we’re a little sassy, we’re entertaining, we’re good folks’ … So once I came back with little snippets of stories, that’s where it started,” Baker said.  

In contrast to Baker’s time spent at the festival, Abi Brewer, a junior majoring in art and international studies, first visited Kentuck last year, but was featured as an artist for this year’s festivities.  

Brewer specializes in mixed-media painting and works towards combining Western and Chinese art influences, due to her cultural background as a Chinese American. 

“I started painting in my senior year of high school … I was a professional ballet dancer after high school and then I decided to come to college. After I stopped dancing, I needed this creative outlet and that’s kind of where this all started,” Brewer said.  

Though Brewer said she has less time to engage with other artists at Kentuck, festivals are something she has enjoyed, although she’s never been in one with the scale of Kentuck, which hosts approximately 20,000 visitors each year.  

“I love to do pop ups, but this is my first fine art festival, I usually do a lot of pop ups like at the farmers market, or just locally even in Birmingham,” Brewer said. 

Kathleen Kelley, a senior majoring in arts administration as social practice in the New College student and editor-in-chief of the Marr’s Field Journal, has been to Kentuck for two years now and enjoys both the art as well as the attention to detail in the festival itself.  

“I love engaging with the local arts community, but not just the local community, the whole southeastern region,” Kelley said. “It’s not just a little art festival that goes on in Tuscaloosa, it’s something that draws artists of really high caliber.”   

Not only does the Kentuck Festival of the Arts provide a place for Kelley to engage with the community, but it also provides a glimpse into arts based in craftsmanship. 

“I also really appreciate the attention to craft traditions,” Kelley said. “I feel like we have lots of opportunities like art galleries on campus and the Paul R. Jones collection and things like that, that are wonderful, but they focus on this fine art practice … I really want to see craftsmanship well celebrated, and I think this is a place that does that.” 

Claire Mauer, a senior majoring in psychology, had never been to the festival until this year. 

“I really liked looking at all of the folk art. I’m very into folk culture and folk music and folk art, so I’ve really enjoyed seeing that, and I’ve also really enjoyed seeing how much they’re how many talented local artists there are just in Tuscaloosa. That was really something I hadn’t really thought about before,” Mauer said.  

Whether students, artists, locals or visitors, it’s obvious that the Kentuck Festival of the Arts has burrowed itself into the heart and soul of Northport, and the Tuscaloosa metropolitan area. 

Although this year’s festival is over, Kentuck Art Center also hosts year-round programming, including workshops, art nights and more. For a complete list of events, visit here.