For many Gulf Coast residents, the Peter Anderson Festival is as much a fall tradition as pulling out the big gumbo pots during the first fall chill.
The festival, in its 38th year, will bring another eclectic group of artists to display their own version of “art gumbo” beginning Saturday in downtown Ocean Springs. Arts and crafts vendors and food booths will line Washington Avenue and Government Street for the largest fine arts festival in Mississippi.
Steeped in tradition and cultural nostalgia, the festival is a big factor in Ocean Springs’ prosperity to the point of explosion, says Cynthia Dobbs Sutton, Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce Executive Director.
“In the last seven to eight years, the festival has made a major jump in growth thanks to our wonderful team of staff and volunteers including Margaret Miller, former director, and Shawn Sutton, events coordinator,” she said. “The festival slowly grew from the chamber parking lot onto Washington Avenue and, shortly after, ventured onto Government Street, which was a street with little travel and retail.”
Government Street now features more than 150 vendors during the festival.
The Peter Anderson Festival brings a whopping 150,000 people to view works by more than 400 artists, craftsmen and vendors, brings in more than $23 million dollars in revenue to the Ocean Springs community and fills area hotels.
“Our local shops, restaurants and galleries stock up on inventory as this is one of the most prosperous weekends for our local community,” Sutton said.
Kathryn Davis of Alley Kat’s Glass in Starkville has been a participating artist at the Peter Anderson Festival since 2006, right after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“I remember being so excited to come but then Katrina hit and I assumed that the festival was cancelled, but it wasn’t,” Davis said. “My love of the festival began then, when I saw how strong the people of the Gulf Coast were and how appreciative they were of the craftsmen that came out.”
Davis, a stained-glass artist for 30-plus years, is bringing 20 families to the festival with her. Every year she requests booth 669 because of the wonderful aromas that come from the Phoenicia Gourmet Restaurant next door, she said.
“The quality and variety of all of the artists is always so excellent,” said Davis.
The Peter Anderson Festival has become a ritual not only for Coast residents but also for many who travel from all over the United States.
“We have seen a trend in families meeting up during the festival weekend,” said Sutton. “Many families get together for the holidays and, just like that, many families consider this a meeting place like a holiday weekend for them.”
In 1978, when the festival began, it had only 56 booths and was considered to be a local bazaar with the intention of showcasing a few local artists’ work. The festival was renamed in 1984 to honor Peterson Anderson, the original potter of Shearwater Pottery, founded in 1928.
“To this day, their family shop, Shearwater Pottery, still sets up a booth at the festival,” Sutton said.
The Anderson family has been providing commemorative festival mugs for sale during the festival since the 1980s.
“These have been very popular items offered that always sell out quickly during the festival weekend,” Sutton said. “But the tradition that has withstood the test of time is that the festival has remained family-friendly.”
For the second year, the festival will feature the Young at Art Children’s Market and Exhibit. Students ages 8 to 18 can set up a booth and sell their own handmade art on the grounds of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. This gives the kids an inside look at the business side of art and some insight into how to market and sell their art.
The festival’s mission, according to its website, has always been “to increase the public awareness of local artists, shops and restaurants and to create opportunities for artists, business development and a welcoming quality of life for residents and visitors alike as we share in the creative economy.”
The festival has lived up to that expectation, Sutton said.
“Peter and Walter Anderson’s mother, Annette McConnell Anderson, started an arts colony, the family later began Shearwater Pottery and the business grew inspiring other businesses and artists to locate in town,” she said.
Art continues to define Ocean Springs, a town of 17,000 residents with 200 shops, restaurants and galleries.
“Ocean Springs has always been known as an arts community and this city is filled with an entrepreneurial spirit,” Sutton said. “Art is business in Ocean Springs!”
For festival information, including a map and guide, visit peterandersonfestival.com.