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Laughlin organizes event to attract visitors

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Michael Laughlin, above, talks Monday about the upcoming Natchez Arts Festival.
Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — Michael Laughlin, above, talks Monday about the upcoming Natchez Arts Festival.

NATCHEZ — With its picturesque landscape and historic architecture on the backdrop of the Mississippi River, Michael Laughlin can think of no better place than Natchez as a setting for an arts festival.

Laughlin, a real estate developer and New Orleans native, moved to Natchez after evacuating his hometown during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

After falling in love with Natchez and spending the past eight years studying the city, Laughlin said he wanted to find a way to bring visitors to Natchez.

“This town is perfect for an arts festival,” he said. “I think it’s just idyllic for an arts festival.”

Laughlin said he is modeling the Natchez Arts Festival after the Mount Dora Arts Festival, which attracts hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors to Mount Dora, Fla., every year.

The Natchez Arts Festival, which is set for May 10-11, will bring artists, musicians, dancers, chefs and others together to promote the arts and Natchez, Laughlin said.

The festival is also hosting a juried art contest for students in Adams County and Concordia Parish. Winners of the contest will have their art shown at the festival.

“I thought it was really important to allow students the opportunity to be in a juried art contest and have their work displayed in the convention center and for sale at a festival,” he said.

Laughlin created a Facebook page for the festival a few months ago, and said the feedback has been tremendous.

The response has been really overwhelming,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience.”

The festival recently issued a call to arts, and Laughlin said the festival has made contact with more than 5,000 artists in Mississippi, New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, as well as other parts of the country.

Laughlin is now trying to get three pop-up galleries for the festival that he believes will attract major gallery artists to the festival.

The festival’s goal is to book 50 artists to display their work in booths, Laughlin said.

In addition to promoting the arts, Laughlin said the festival could have a remarkable economic impact on Natchez.

“And our main goal is to get people interested in Natchez,” he said.

“I truly believe in five to 10 years, Natchez is going to be a booming city,” he said. “Natchez is amazingly attractive to people and amazingly attractive to baby boomers, and the quality of life is amazing.”

Laughlin said he believes many people not familiar with Natchez would feel the same way he did when he came here. The key is getting them here, and he hopes the arts festival does that.

“I sold everything I own in New Orleans, because I truly believe Natchez is the place I want to live,” he said.

The festival is selling raffle tickets for a 2014 Ford Mustang, a seven-day Caribbean cruise and a weekend bed-and-breakfast stay in Natchez to raise money for the festival.

Tickets are $20 for one chance or $100 for six chances.

For more information about the festival or to purchase raffle tickets, visit natchezartsfestival.com or the festival’s Facebook page.