Kentuck Art Festival makes accessible impact


CW / Ashley King

Annabelle Blomeley , Contributing Writer

The Kentuck Festival of the Arts resumed for its 48th year this past weekend in downtown Northport. The event kicked off with over 270 artists selling their art under the trees of Kentuck Park. The artists from around the country sold and displayed paintings, photography, pottery, jewelry and even sculptures made of tree branches and sheets of metal.

Ashley Williams, the festival’s marketing manager, said that the festival’s goal is to challenge the view that art is pretentious or inaccessible. 

“A lot of people’s only experience with art is with museums where all of the artists have already passed or hushed gallery openings where it’s a little inaccessible and people feel like they don’t belong there,” Williams said. “We like to make sure Kentuck is accessible and reaches as many people as possible. It’s a really good time for people who don’t even think they like art.”

The festival is rooted in folk art, but Williams said that it’s open to art of all forms. 

“We like to say we are based in folk art, but we really celebrate all different types of art,” Williams said. “We have everything from fine oil paintings to self-taught artists who are all equally incredible in what they do.”

This year, the festival received a grant from the Tuscaloosa Board of Tourism and Sports to run a promotion that highlights artists from all over Alabama for the state’s bicentennial. 

Williams said that this allows people to easily access the work of Alabama artists and to “see the breadth of creativity within the state.”

The hundreds of visitors could listen to live performances by the Birmingham Sunlights and the Alabama Blues Project at the Brother Ben Music Stage. They could also grab a bite to eat at food trucks like Archibald’s BBQ and Pastor’s Kitchen or at carnival food stands that served goodies like homemade kettle corn and snowcones. The festival also included activities for kids, including face painting, tie-dying, paper marbling and calligraphy.

Leslie Peebles, an artist from Gainesville, Florida, returned to Kentuck this past weekend for her third year at the festival. She said that she participates in several art festivals year-round and that Kentuck is one of her favorites. 

“The variety, innovation and uniqueness is beautiful,” Peebles said. “There’s a funky vibe here, and it’s art that you don’t see anywhere else.”

Peebles creates paintings and prints of whimsical scenes depicting the American South’s natural landscapes. She feels that people don’t pay enough attention to the magic of nature that’s all around them. Her art moves to challenge that.

“I’m inspired by nature and trees and the land and birds and animals,” Peebles said. “I feel so spiritually connected when I’m out in nature, and I get that feeling like I’m truly one with nature. It’s a spiritually nurturing thing.”

Visitors could also listen to spoken word poetry and prose from the Alabama Student Association for Poetry and Steve Hobbs or watch live demonstrations of metal casting with Sloss Metal Arts.

Kaili McGrew, a freshman English major at The University of Alabama, said that Kentuck reminded her of her favorite art festival in her hometown, but so much bigger.

“There are so many artists represented who are making art really for anybody’s taste. If I had money, I would have brought so many things home with me,” McGrew said about her time at Kentuck. “Overall, it’s such a great experience. My friends and I have already planned to go back next year.”