Art and Westport are synonymous. Put them together and you have the Forty-Seventh Westport Fine Arts Festival, a smorgasbord of creative delights. It was planned for May (check westportdma.org for updates). The Westport Downtown Merchants Association (WDMA), which handles such town traditions, was trying to beat the heat by presenting this annual festival when mid-summer temperatures wouldn’t be a deterrent. Much depends on restrictions outside their control as they plan to host nearly 175 national and international artists for the high-caliber juried show in a variety of mediums: painting, mixed-media, glass, fiber, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, photography and wood. When the event does unfold, each artist will have his or her own booth along Main Street in an uplifting cavalcade of tents.
AT THE CENTER OF IT
Such offerings would not be possible without WDMA President Randy Herbertson, Director Rebecca Mace and Events Coordinator Jacqui Bidgood, whose collective goals and passions are to work with merchants, businessowners and landlords to improve the business and overall culture and beautification of downtown Westport. “In this challenging environment, our local merchants are feeling cautiously optimistic, but they understand that the recipe for success is building relationships with customers and providing in-store experiences they can’t get online,” Herbertson explains. A vibrant downtown attracts new business, too. Westport will soon welcome Sundance, Johnny Was, an expanded lululemom and Café Açaí, with others expected to be announced.
“Our events are all about relationships and experiences,” he says, and the WDMA carries that off with aplomb. Treasured town foodie Chef Bill Taibe, who is on the board for WDMA, oversees and coordinates the food for all WDMA events. The association’s ultimate mission is to create a strong experience for shoppers and diners, who are our town’s greatest supporters.
The WDMA, nestled behind Aux Delices at 56 Church Lane, is at the hub of helping Westport flourish creatively. Its relentless enthusiasm prevails. All one needs to do is recall just a few of their gifts. Westoberfest, for one, has become a major celebration of New England craft beer. This festival offers plenty of beer tastings (last year included some thirty-plus local and regional breweries) as well as live music, local food, classic cars and artisans from the Westport Farmers Market; it also has family fun, like face painting. It attracted about 2,000 singles, couples, and families from here and neighboring communities. Another star event, Fashionably Westport, is a makeover-and-fashion show with local merchants walking the runway, followed by a dance party. It was planned for April and is usually two days with in-store activities and promotions (see updates online).
“This year Great Stuff, a local mom-and-pop shop, will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary. Its continued success is inspiring to other local merchants,” Mace says. Most local shops and salons are eager to jump in and support WDMA events. Thinking of a late-winter meeting, she says, “It was great to see the merchants showing such support to what they referred to as ‘our community.’ This makes Westport such a special and exciting place to live, dine and shop.”
THE FINE ARTS FESTIVAL
The Westport Fine Arts Festival keeps us in a state of anticipatory excitement, as strolling is a favorite Westport pastime. Townspeople and visitors appreciate when Main Street comes alive with music, special performances and a succession of creative kids’ activities and when restaurants bustle with the din of hungry diners who stop by to refresh themselves with food and drink before continuing on their way. People-watching is part of the day’s entertainment. The Fine Arts Festival had been held in July, but the WDMA hoped to bypass summer heat in exchange for late spring; either way, when the time is right, Westporters will show up. Whether pushing a baby stroller, flaunting high couture, or relaxed in casual set in jeans, T-shirts and straw hats, the town welcomes art lovers sliding in and out of booths to check out possible purchases or simply say, “Just looking.”
The festival is a chance to survey the landscape of art. Serious and wannabe collectors alike look forward to taking home a “must have” find. The choices are endless—a steady stream of talent waiting to be explored. Plus, the exhibitors enjoy sharing stories. Rebecca Mace says one artist even checked in to see if the piece she purchased was to her liking once she got it home. Another time, an attractive woman lingered a long time at a photographer’s booth; six months later the two tied the knot. Visitors never know what they might find—a painting, a stunning piece of hand-crafted jewelry, an outdoor sculpture or, as the photographer and his amour discovered, love (Cupid is fluttering along Main Street). The WDMA can’t do better than that.