Charlotte’s celebrated Festival in the Park at Freedom Park has been a staple in our community since 1964.
Last weekend marked the 54th Annual Festival in the Park and Charlotteans of all ages enjoyed strolling by art exhibits, listening to live music, shopping unique arts and crafts booths and then there’s the elephant ears, a Festival in the Park tradition!
Festival In the Park began in 1964 when John Belk, then President of the Chamber of Commerce suggested to Grant Whitney, an insurance executive with Belk Stores Services, to create an arts show in Freedom Park. The idea of a Spring art show had been tossed around the prior year by the Chamber but had not materialized.
With the suggestion from Ms. Ernest Franklin of the Chamber’s Fine Arts Committee to tailor a festival after Copenhagen’s Tyvoli Gardens, Grant researched the weather and found that the fall season in Charlotte would be a better time for the outside show, as it is normally dry in September. The date was set to be the third week in September. Since the beginning only six days have been rained out, with the exception of the Hugo year.
In 2011, Festival in the Park expanded and launched the Kings Drive Art Walk which takes place in May on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway at 600 South Kings Drive. Next year’s Kings Drive Art Walk will take place May 4-5.
While the Festival provides a space for artists and art lovers to come together, it has also been responsible for many gifts throughout Freedom Park that everyone can enjoy year round.
An underground electrical system was installed at Freedom Park, with labor and materials donated by many companies in support of the Festival’s need for lighting. The Festival supervised the completion of the Band Shell, in addition to sidewalks and amphitheater seating. None of this could have been accomplished without the many volunteers and donations secured at the urgency of Grant Whitney.
The Festival now has one paid staff member, several seasonal employees, and many volunteers, including a Festival Board of Directors and organizational committees. It welcomes over 180 artists, nearly 1,000 entertainers for a compressed three-day event. Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation Department, local city and private schools, the local electrician’s union, several key sponsors, the local media and hundreds of local volunteers ensure the Festival entertains the 85,000 plus who attend.
Kings Drive Art Walk Photo credit: @mattshdr