Dogwood Festival moves to summer spot for 2021

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

The pandemic forced the signature Atlanta arts festival to change dates.

Dogwood blossoms came and went last year, and there was no Atlanta Dogwood Festival to celebrate their arrival.

Typically, thousands fill Piedmont Park to shop for sculpture, paintings and jewelry but also to eat and enjoy live entertainment during the three-day showcase each April. But, apart from a slimmed down version of its high school arts competition, the annual arts and music event was yet another of the city’s signature festivals that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And again, this April, there were no such festivities.

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

But just as dogwood trees are preparing for a fall display of red leaves, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival is returning to Piedmont Park, Aug. 6-8. While there are a few new additions, including a Friday night drag show, a lot of the regular features will be in place. Back are the Mimosa 5k, the mini-concerts and dance performances, the food vendors and hundreds of artists. Organizers are hopeful the public will return as well, especially since the pandemic is not yet over, and guidance from federal health officials over when and where to wear masks is in flux.

“This is a new world,” said Brian Hill, executive director of the festival. “We don’t know how people are feeling and we’ve never done it in the summer before. So it’s difficult to move forward but we have to buckle down and do things differently.”

Hear our interview with Hill in the podcast below.

Hill said they wanted to hold the festival in April as usual but had to wait for approval from the city, which was also trying to navigate the fallout from the pandemic. One of the changes visitors will see, Hill said is that artists and vendors will no longer be cheek by jowl in the park. Instead they will be spread out so people can avoid being clustered together if they choose. More than 1,000 painters, potters, glass blowers, textile artists, jewelry makers and other artists typically compete for one of the coveted spots in the nationally recognized, juried arts festival. This year, however, the number of selected artists is down from two years ago, from 260 to 200, about 26 % Hill said. Even so, it might not be noticeable to attendees.

“All these artists have all this work that has been piling up and this may be one of the first opportunities they get to sell (since 2020) with such a large audience,” Hill said.

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Another big change, in this the festival’s 85th year, is the admission policy. The festival has typically been a free event, excluding tickets for VIP services such as food in the chefs’ tent. This year, while general admission is still free, there is a suggested $5 donation upon entry, though it is not required. While Hill declined to reveal the festival’s budget, he said that like many in the events industry, the Dogwood took a significant financial hit in 2020.

“We could sit it out and wait until next year and we’d have less to offer,” Hill said. “But now we’re just moving forward.”

Moving forward also means acknowledging the rise in violent crime that has plagued Atlanta (as well as other big cities around the country) over the last year. In late July, a woman and her dog were killed in the park. Knowing that people are rattled, security will be stepped up this year for the festival, with an increased number of uniformed and plainclothes police officers on park grounds and surrounding streets, Hill said. They will be present around the clock all three days of the festival’s run.

Apart from art, food is a big draw for the festival, from corn dogs to lemonade. Those will still be in abundance but there are major changes in the VIP food section as well. Instead of a barbecue sampler spread primarily prepared off-site and brought in, chefs from local restaurant groups will be onsite “over a fire pit cooking together,” Hill said. The festival is covering a significant portion of the cost of food, Hill said, since the restaurant industry was among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many restaurants are struggling to lure and retain staff in their brick-and-mortar buildings, let alone for a weekend festival.

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

As for entertainment, the popular International Stage will now be part of the main stage at Oak Hill near 10th Street. But a new addition to the entertainment line-up is likely to be a draw. The Midtown Burlesque and Cabaret will debut on Friday night on the main stage, complete with drag performances and impersonators. Hill said it was important to add something that would broaden the festival’s appeal going forward.

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Credit: Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Atlanta’s oldest festival, it was started in 1936 by the founder of Rich’s department store, Walter Rich, as a way to celebrate the city’s favorite tree, in a city renowned for its then citywide canopy.

Though real blossoms might have been a crowning touch for the festival’s return, their absence won’t be a problem. A few years ago a bronze sculpture of a dogwood branch in different stages of bloom was installed near the Charles Allen Drive entrance. In the form of a massive bench set along the edge the lake and with a view of the city’s skyline, the sculpture was designed by Atlanta artist Martin Dawe, who created the sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Georgia state Capitol.

“So there are always dogwoods in bloom in Piedmont Park,” Hill said.


EVENT PREVIEW

The Atlanta Dogwood Festival

Noon–9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 7; and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 8. Artist market closes at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free, but a $5 donation at the gate is suggested. Piedmont Park, 1320 Monroe Drive NE, Atlanta. dogwood.org.