The Bayou City Art Festival, nestled in the heart of Texas’s largest city, provides a significant opportunity for art lovers.
Houston is home to a vibrant food scene, major league sports, and a strong music scene. And twice a year, the Bayou City Art Festival turns Houston into a hub of the art world.
Just because Houston is there doesn’t mean it’s worth the trip, though. It can be a sweltering hot box in the summer and a big wet blanket in the winter.
Is the Bayou City Art Festival a good enough reason to make the trip? Find out with us.
What Is the Bayou City Art Festival?
Twice a year, the Art Colony Association, formerly the Westheimer Colony Association, produces the Bayou City Art Festival. That’s a lot of names to throw around, and we’ll get more into that in a bit. But first, let’s discuss why the Westheimer Colony Association produced what became the Bayou City Art Festival.
Way back in 1971, a group of business owners formed a coalition to beautify their neighborhood. Out in Midtown, at the crossroads where Westheimer turns into Elgin and Spur 527 becomes Brazos, is the festival’s original site. The park, known as Westheimer Colony Plaza, hosted the first festival with a juried art show and arts and crafts vendors.
It didn’t take long for the Westheimer Street Festival to grow around the art festival. By the mid-1980s, the original organizers of the art festival distanced themselves from the street festival. They even took the organizers of the street festival to court in 1992 over the rights to The Original Westheimer Street Fest Inc. The street festival won.
In a few short years, the Bayou City Art Festival debuted at Memorial Park in Houston, and the organizers became the Art Colony Association. Since 1997, the Bayou City Art Festival’s two annual shows draw folks from around the region.
The organizers avoid the worst Texas weather with a show in March and one in September. You can enjoy a mild spring or a comfortable fall while exploring the art.
What Type of Art Does the Bayou City Art Festival Show?
Each year, of the 1200 applications received, around 250 artists get to participate in the juried show. Artists may send in five applications in nineteen categories. And while the Bayou City Art Festival bills itself as a “fine art” show, many of the categories also lend themselves to folk artists.
Once applications come in, a panel of five to seven artists, collectors, and prominent critics make up the jury. Imagine pouring through 1000 plus applications and getting to 250 or so finalists! It takes some jurors up to a week to score their assigned artists, but once they do, the show is on.
Categories include sculpture (clay, mixed media, metal), functional art (furniture, jewelry, leather), painting (digital, traditional), printmaking, and even one for emerging artists. At the shows, artists are judged on their booth setup too. The winners of the categories have to provide the whole package.
What Is the Difference Between Fine Art and Folk Art?
Fine art and folk art may not look much different on the surface. A great painting is precisely that. What distinguishes fine artists from folk artists is one thing, education. Fine artists usually go through a rigorous training process at a recognized institution. This might be a four-year college or a graduate program.
Folk artists are usually self-taught and don’t have the same kind of education a fine artist has. Another significant difference is that folk art tends to have a function beyond how it looks.
For hundreds of years, folk artists made furniture and other household items that served a function. The difference between craftspeople and folk artists? Folk artists put a little something extra into their work.
Where Is the Festival?
From its early days at Westheimer Colony Plaza, the Bayou City Art Festival moved to Memorial Park in Houston for the spring event. The fall event is held in the Sam Houston Park downtown area.
One of the largest urban parks in the country, Memorial Park hosts the spring festival each year. With over 20,000 visitors annually, the spring edition of the fest takes place along the South Picnic Loop of the park. If you plan to put the spring event on your calendar, here are some essential things to know.
There is no free parking at this location. One option is to park at the Northwest Mall and purchase a $5 shuttle pass to the site. The pass is good for one round trip, and children under 12 are free. If you don’t want to shuttle, there are some metered parking spots within a half-mile of the venue and several in the park much further away.
Sam Houston park plays host to the fall festival. Like the spring festival, there are over 20,000 visitors anticipated. Advance tickets go on sale on August 1. You can expect art, food, music, and entertainment for the whole family. This year, there is also a new exhibit from the Collegiate Art Collective!
Parking is the same as the spring festival. Located at the Northwest Mall, shuttles run every 15 minutes for patrons and volunteers. Organizers recommend rideshare options for festival goers since there is no parking onsite.
How Much Does It Cost to Attend the Bayou City Art Festival?
In the beginning, the Bayou City Art Festival made most of its money from the entry fees and vendors. Recent years have seen some changes.
Tickets for both events are $18 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-12, and children under 5 are free. Discounted tickets are available online leading up to the festivals. Check the Art Colony Association website for specifics on when tickets become available.
Who Sponsors the Festival?
The Art Colony Association is the primary organizer and sponsor of the Bayou City Art Festival. As the festival’s size has grown, other sponsors have stepped in to help with financial support.
The City of Houston and the Houston Arts Alliance both contribute funds to the ACA. Because the association is a nonprofit organization, several larger companies also contribute. Sponsors of the 2022 edition include Frost Bank, Stella Artois, and Nuro, among others.
What Is the Collegiate Art Collective?
College students in the Houston area can participate in the festival through the Collegiate Art Collective, entering any of the 19 categories. This newer part of the festival allows emerging college-level artists access to the over 20,000 visitors at the festival.
Do Local Charities Benefit from the Bayou City Art Festival?
You might wonder where those funds go with all this hype and civic support. The Art Colony Association supports six local charities in the Houston area this season. They’re ArtReach, A Cause to Give Us Paws, The Women’s Fund, Fresh Arts, Orange Show for Visionary Art, and The Museum of Fine Arts.
Where Can I See More Folk Art?
Folk art is one of the most significant contributors to the festival scene around the country. Any city market you run into will have at least four or five artists selling their wares. From handicrafts to studio art, the value of folk art is on the rise.
American Folk Art Museum
One of the best places to see folk art in the U.S. is the American Folk Art Museum in New York City. Since 1961, the museum has been the premier institution supporting the study and appreciation of folk art in America.
With over 8,000 pieces in its collection, the AFAM doesn’t only focus on American artists. Four centuries and almost every continent appear in the collection.
If you want to visit the American Folk Art Museum, it’s open Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free, but they appreciate advance registration, so they know you’re coming.
Outside Folk Gallery
You can explore more folk, street, and outsider art in our personal collection at Outside Folk Art. We’re celebrating these creatives and giving voice to rising black, Native, immigrant, and working mother artisans.
We’ll also be offering pop-up shows and collaborations with small museums, so be sure to follow us to discover the where and when!
Is a Trip to the Bayou City Art Festival Worth It?
If you’re as excited about art as we are, the Bayou City Art Festival is worth the price of admission. You’ll always find a new favorite artist browsing the stalls. And the categories allow for a much broader experience for the casual viewer than your typical art show. Savvy collectors can also jump on the next hot artist if they know what to look for.
Have you been to the Bayou City Art Festival? Tell us about it in the comments!