For the last 46 years in a row, the North Kingstown Arts Council has sponsored the famous Outdoor Art Festival in Wickford, Rhode Island, and this summer will be no exception, bringing the total up to 47. As such, this is the oldest, continuously running outdoor art festival in the country.
Traditionally, the Art Festival is always held the weekend following the Fourth of July holiday, and this year it is scheduled for the 11th and 12th of that month. This year, the annual summer event ought to be a lot nicer for visitors, because the RI Department of Transportation has been upgrading the streets in downtown Wickford, and has been putting in some greatly needed new sidewalks. The new and improved sidewalks are wider, don’t have tree roots making them buckle unpredictably, and are just a lot easier to walk on.
The Art Festival is one of the biggest town events in the village of Wickford, so everybody gets involved. The North Kingstown Police, especially, are instrumental in making sure that people are safe, and re-direct traffic from coming through the area beginning on Friday night, when the artists start to arrive and set up their works. In what is considered to be the center of town, just beyond the bridge on Brown Street, there is a big parking lot where lots of Porta-johns are set up, and often vendors sell goodies to eat or drink there, too.
Over on the next street, which is called Main Street (doesn’t every town have one?), are the nicer sidewalks that I was describing above – if you park elsewhere, you might wonder what I was talking about, because the sidewalks haven’t been done yet. At any rate, down on Main Street a ways is the First Baptist Church in Wickford, a stately old structure that sits back nicely from the street. The Church has a big parking lot, which is transformed into a family-style picnic area during the Art Festival, and the church members, wearing shorts and t-shirts, are busy selling chowder, clam cakes, hamburgers, hotdogs, beverages, and of course, strawberry shortcake. The strawberry shortcake is made with REAL whipped cream, from actual heavy cream and sugar, and is lovingly prepared by people down in the church kitchen in mixing bowls. This is not the kind that you can spray out of a can. They make their own shortcakes, too, from scratch, so sometimes they are funny looking, but that is because they are not cut out by a machine. There always lots of tables and chairs set up, underneath shady trees, so visitors can sit down and enjoy their meal. The restaurants in the area are always overflowing and insanely busy, so according to one customer at First Baptist Church during the Art Festival of 2008, the church “has the best deal going in town.”
Before or after eating, the Women’s Guild has several tables full of jewelry, clothes, and lots of other handmade items or things that are for sale. There are bargains galore here, and things for people of all ages, from 8 months to 80 years. There is an area where the children can sit for Face Painting. The church itself is open for visitors to see the inside of, and people fall so in love with the interior that they often decide they want to be married in the sanctuary or they start attending on Sunday mornings if they live nearby.
For musical entertainment, on Saturday afternoon, July 11th, after the “lunch rush”, probably around 2:00, Kyrie Road will play. “Kyrie” is from the Greek, and means God, and is pronounced keer-ee-aay, so Kyrie Road means the “road to God”. Kyrie Road was formed 2 ½ years ago, and features drums, an electric guitar, an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, keyboard, a flute, and 5 or 6 vocalists. They specialize in contemporary Christian music, but also perform a lot of familiar pop hits like “I Can See Clearly Now” and “California Dreamin’ “. The members of this band are all in their 30’s or 40’s, so they have a unique message to bring to the younger crowd, but the older people love them, too, because they bring such energy and spirit to some of the old hymns. And people always love hearing the oldies but goodies!
Parking – The N.K. Police Department bans parking along the streets, but there are several places in the area. The Lions Club, for a small donation, supervises parking in the Wilson Park area, just as you drive on to West Main Street from Rt. 1, and they operate a shuttle bus at regular intervals to and from the downtown area. Parking is also available at the other end of town, behind the old Wickford Elementary School on Phillips Street, and here & there in other areas.
Facilities – The largest area is in the parking lot behind Rite Aid, Wilson’s of Wickford, and Sovereign Bank on Brown Street, just on the other side of the little bridge. Plenty of Porta-johns are trucked in, so people don’t have to wait in long lines, and there are also several hand washing stations. Other Porta-johns are located in the back of the First Baptist Church in Wickford’s parking lot.