Small Art & Soul Festival not a bad thing

Published 11:46 pm Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Friday and Saturday’s Art and Soul Festival seemed a bit sideways.

The event — in it’s third year — is a street fair where artists sell their wares, bands play and the children run amuck without having to look both ways before they cross.

I said “street” fair.

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This year, though, Art and Soul became more of a shops-along-the-street fair.

When I strolled through around 2 p.m. Saturday the streets were nearly bare minus the vendors in the center. But the restaurants and a few shops along the way were busting at the seams.

Saturday was hotter than you’d hope for in October. In the sun, it was plain uncomfortable. In the shade, well, it was still hot.

So maybe the visitors to the street fair fled the streets for the nice, comfortable, air- conditioned shops.

This year’s event also had fewer vendors than previous years. The organizing body — the Natchez Downtown Development Association — got a late start on the planning and they just didn’t rally up as much vendor participation as in years past.

So maybe the people went into the shops and restaurants because they didn’t have enough selection on the streets.

Art and Soul falls right in the middle of the Miss-Lou’s festival season. First there is the Natchez Food & Wine Festival, then Bowie Fest, then Bark in the Park. Then after Art & Soul we have balloon race.

So maybe folks chose the weekend of Art & Soul to cut the grass, relax at home or see out-of-town family.

A lot of factors likely weighed into making this year’s Art & Soul the smallest yet. And though everyone says they were disappointed with the turnout, most artists I’ve touched base with said they had some success.

It was small, but maybe this Art & Soul was the best one ever.

The purpose of the Downtown Development Association is to promote downtown businesses. The group should do whatever it takes to drive business into those shops and restaurants along the downtown streets.

This year, the group tried two new ideas on July 4 and Labor Day when they encouraged downtown businesses to stay open and encouraged locals to make the day worthwhile to the shop owner’s cash registers.

Those ideas succeeded, and according to the shops and restaurants, Art and Soul did too.

Breaud’s Seafood and Steaks had customers until 4 a.m. Saturday. Vaughan’s Café had nearly every table full at 1:30 p.m. — after the normal lunch rush.

And children’s store Growing Pains saw a new form of clientele, owner Tracy Henry said — the locals.

For the downtown shops weekend traffic is largely tourists. Natchez residents tend to do their K-Mart or Wal-Mart shopping and avoid downtown. But last weekend, the locals had a reason to drive into the heart of town.

And even if they didn’t spend their time walking the streets browsing what the vendors had to offer, they did visit downtown.

If the downtown businesses are happy, I’d say the weekend was a success.

The Natchez tourism department works hard to line up festivals that will draw people to town. Our city needs the influx of out-of-town money.

Art and Soul isn’t balloon race. It doesn’t cater to a wide-range of people from faraway distances. It isn’t food and wine fest. It doesn’t key in on a niche of society that’s willing to travel to their events.

Art and Soul is a smaller festival, that, perhaps, could be for the locals. It could pull folks from the U.S. 61 South neighborhoods, from Vidalia and from local apartments and show them what their own downtown has to offer.

One visit may be enough to keep folks coming back.

When that happens, our city truly has soul.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or