The Debut of a ‘Big’ New Arts Festival

By Remy Sisk

Photos Courtesy of the Big Four

Bridge Arts Festival

Though many regard it as the perfect place to take out-of-town guests or the ideal spot for photos of the city’s skyline, when Lou Nunnelley looked at the Big Four Bridge – often referred to as “the walking bridge” – he saw something else: a venue for an arts festival. Now, four years later, the inaugural Big Four Bridge Arts Festival is about to take place.

“I knew I had the perfect venue,” Nunnelley remembers thinking. “The Big Four Bridge is the perfect setting for an arts festival.” Nunnelley actually went to art school himself, but four years ago upon first getting the idea for a show at the bridge, he began attending conferences and seminars around the country to learn more about event planning and directing.

As final plans for the festival – which is indeed a juried art show – took shape, he expected to exhibit 60 to 80 artists. However, 181 applied, and from that, the judges of John Michael Carter as well as the late Julius Friedman narrowed it down to 115. Nunnelley also wanted to feature up-and-coming artists and consequently instituted the emerging artists program, which features Louisville-based artists who are new to festivals. This year, there will be 20 exhibitors who fall into that category.

As far as the juried artists, who hail from all across the country, Nunnelley asserts that the city must show support if the festival is to continue to annually develop. “Number one, we have to take care of the artists because these are national artists coming and traveling hundreds of miles,” he says. “We have to support them. But it was also very well stated that this is a first-year festival. Most artists don’t do first-year festivals, but because of the venue here and word from other artists, they came anyway. So they’re really taking a chance on Louisville.”

Already, Nunnelley is astounded by the positive feedback and interest that has been shown toward the festival in the weeks preceding it. “We’ll be hanging posters and people will ask, ‘Can I have a poster?’ or they’ll say, ‘What a great idea!’” he relates. What’s especially enticing about this festival is that it should not feel cramped or crowded. Since this will take place on the Big Four Lawn, there will be no shortage of breathing room, which is an aspect that’s also been appealing to Phil Ragland, the festival’s music director.

“One thing I see in this that’s very attractive is the waterfront and the fact that this is fresh and new,” Ragland maintains. “Other festivals are beautiful and established, but they have their headaches for the average person who wants to go to an art show. This is broad and it’s beautiful.”

Ragland, meanwhile, has been hard at work curating the perfect blend of musicians who will contribute to the lively atmosphere without stealing too much of the focus. “We wanted the music to be incidental to the art fair; we don’t want to distract from the fact that this is an art show, but we wanted to offer some music as part of the atmosphere,” he explains. “The stage is sort of set off from the rest of the festival, and we wanted more atmospheric music so we have some Bluegrass sounds and some singer-songwriter folks – nothing too overpowering.” The acts Ragland has lined up include The Whiskey Bent Valley Boys, Janis Pruitt, Hound of the Buskervilles and more.

The weekend of the show, September 9 and 10, is a big weekend for art in Louisville. In addition to the Big Four Bridge Arts Festival, the Portland Art & Heritage Fair as well as Mellwood’s September Art Fair will also take place. Nunnelley, however, is making a concentrated effort to work together and collaborate; thus, there will be a trolley that runs between the Big Four Lawn and the Portland festival at 17th and Lytle and – hopefully – the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center.

Regardless of if you go for the art, the venue or even the music, the Big Four Bridge Arts Festival is sure to be an exciting new addition to the already impressive art fair offerings in the city. With national juried art, Louisville-based works and a truly Kentucky-kind-of music lineup, there will be no shortage of culture to be discovered. VT

Big Four Bridge Arts Festival

September 9-10

Big Four Lawn


One Response to “The Debut of a ‘Big’ New Arts Festival”

  1. Constance Mettler

    Love all of this … sounds so accessible for many and the outreach to a national audience of artists will be bringing new faces and art to the Louisville area.

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