RiverArtsFest – recognized as one of the 200 best festivals last year – lives up to its name again this year as it returns to the river for its 16th edition this coming Saturday and Sunday.

It’s a festival with meaning.  It’s a reminder that Memphis’ rich vein of creativity is not confined to recording studios but also to the studios of artists.  That more than 150 artists from across the U.S. joins with city and area artists says volumes about the reputation of the largest fine arts festival in the Mid-South.

In addition, its purpose embraces and enhances values of an inclusive community that can serve as inspiration for other civic events.  Its mission states it well: it is “to bring people together through a love of fine arts, great music, and the joy in community to celebrate a diversity of creativity fueled by individual passions and culture.”

And the riverfront – where Memphis began after all – seems the perfect common ground for RiverArtsFest to demonstrate its mission and celebrate the rich arts creativity on display.  And Memphis being Memphis, there will of course be music as well. 

The festival will be held on Riverside Drive between Jefferson Avenue and Union Avenue on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Daily tickets can be purchased at the gate or in advance online at riverartsmemphis.org.  Single day tickets are $10 and two-day tickets are $15. Children five years old and younger are free, and tickets for children between six and 12 are $5.

One of the Best

“We are excited to back down on the river,” said Managing Director Bonnie Thornton. “It feels like home.  October is a beautiful month and Memphis loves an outdoor festival.  Everyone at Memphis River Parks Partnership, City of Memphis, Downtown Memphis Commission, and the mayor have come through to make sure we could have it.”

Last year, Renasant Convention Center was home for the festival when there was construction on Riverside Drive.  “We are grateful (to the convention center) because they kept us relevant and got everyone excited,” she said.

Sunshine Artist magazine called the 2021 festival one of the nation’s 200 best festivals, coming in at #20 in the fine art festival category.

It features a juried Artists Market with 150+ artists who bring original works for sale in painting, photography, ceramics, mixed media, glass, wearable art, jewelry, and more.  There is also live music, a Hands-on creative station, Artists and Work demonstrations, and food and beverage.

Kong Wee Pang

A centerpiece for RiverArtsFest is its annual poster which this year was created by its 2022 featured artists, one of the city’s most gifted and revered artists, Kong Wee Pang, whose work has been shown nationally and internationally. 

Profits to Good Use

The festival is supported by a “very dedicated group of volunteers,” said Ms. Thornton.  “It is their act of love to put this on for the city. We love Memphis and want to give back. It is deeply embedded in our soul.”

To this end, profits from RiverArtsFest are invested in outreach program like its Community and Arts Educations Initiative, which supports artist-led workshops for arts educators in schools; small artistic grants; programming for students of all ages and abilities; and free tickets to school students. Its collaboration with Memphis and Shelby County Schools provided participatory sessions at Brooks Museum of Art led by artists Sarai Payne, Susan Maakestad, Richard Echols and Darlene Newman were provided to all school art instructions during their in-service learning day in August.  Michael Terra kicked off the series at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. 

“We love to see our community come together, from every walk of life,” said Ms. Thornton.  “Every big city has to have a fine arts festival.  It elevates the community, and it drives the local economy with tourism as people come here to stop, eat and restaurants downtown.  It’s a special introduction to the city, and a way to see Memphis is pretty cool because it’s an example of what’s supposed to happen in cool cities.  It shows that Memphis is more than a one-dimensional.

“Our city is complicated but arts can be an expression of hope.”   

It is that hope that the arts best delivers – and explains why RiverArtsFest is such a seminal and anticipated part of our community calendar.  


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