It was back in 1971 when some Montrose-area retail owners and residents came together to start a community arts and crafts festival to raise money to spruce up lower Westheimer Road. That first little street fair was so popular the group started the Westheimer Colony Association (WCA), and by 1973 the WCA began producing two small art and crafts festivals each year with proceeds used to beautify the surrounding areas with esplanade plantings.
"Jay Hollyfield was father of the festival," says Mary Paulette, a board member for 23 years. "He was one of the original Montrose property owners and he was a friend who recruited me to join the board."
That was in 1990 when the event had become more about a street festival than an art one. Hollyfield, who passed away in 1994, wanted to move it to a true fine arts event.
This year all proceeds from the Memorial Park festival will go to 16 local charities including Bering Omega Community Services, SNAP and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
"I think 1992 was a pivotal year," recalls Paulette. "That's when Jay and the board changed directions. We moved out of Montrose to some downtown parking lots, expanded the board and staff and became a 501(c)3 so we could get grants."
By 1995, the organization changed its name to the Art Colony Association and in 1997 partnered with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to host the two festivals at Memorial Park and Herman Square and surrounding streets around City Hall downtown.
The biannual festivals have raised more than $2.7 million for arts and service organizations in Houston. This year all proceeds from the Memorial Park festival will go to 16 local charities including Bering Omega Community Services, SNAP and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The groups provide the volunteers that are instrumental in putting on the festival.
When it started tickets were just $1, today they cost $15 at the gate or $13 if you buy now online. And members can get two free tickets, with a few other perks (membership is just $150), while kids get in for $3 (children two and under get in for free). And you will want to bring the little ones because there are plenty of interactive activities for them.
Do bring cash, as that's all the ticket booths take, and do take advantage of the Park & Ride shuttles that will be running from Northwest Mall and the Downtown Theater District for free because you won't find parking at the park site.
"It's grown from this little street fair to a nationally recognized fine arts fair," says Paulette. "You wouldn’t recognize it now. We have 18,000 to 25,000 visitors over the three days. As long as it doesn't rain."
More than just a board member, Paulette is also an art collector who avidly supports the festival artists.
"Let's just say my husband says I'm not allowed to buy anymore! I have paintings in the bathroom, stuff in storage. But there are always jewelry artists, so now I buy earrings. I always have room for earrings!"
Bayou City Art Festival will take place from March 22 to 24 at Memorial Park.