MYSTIC — Kearney Worthington took a deep sigh of relief one afternoon earlier this week as she took stock of the status of one of the region’s premier events.
The Mystic Outdoor Art Festival — the oldest of its kind in the region, which draws more than 85,000 people from around New England and beyond during the two-day event — opens Saturday in donwtown Mystic, and Worthington is playing backup for Lauren Gilberto, the chambers’s events manager who is out on maternity leave.
“All the artists know where they are and they’re happy,” said a relieved Worthington. “Now it’s getting really exciting.”
“Everything is coming together nicely,” she added.
The annual Mystic Outdoor Art Festival, sponsored by the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce, is a much-anticipated local event that will be celebrating its 61st year this weekend.
The festival has evolved in many ways from its humble beginnings many decades ago, Gilberto said in a statement. In 1957, she said, Milton Baline and several other local business owners and art lovers proposed that Mystic pattern a festival after the famous Washington Square Festival in New York. That first show featured 105 artists and 500 paintings.
Somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 visitors came to admire and purchase art that first year, she said. Today, the festival stretches over two miles and is the oldest, and one of the largest, of its kind in the Northeast. The Mystic Outdoor Art Festival has grown to over 250 artists who come from all corners of the United States and bring more than 100,000 works of art.
New this year, said Worthington, is the launch of a program she finds particulary exciting — the “Emerging Student Artists” exhibit.
“We waived the fee for a bunch of young local artists who range in age from 10 to college age,” she said. “They are here by invitation and they are so cute … especially the little 10-year-olds.”
With the addition of the “Emerging Student Artist” category to this year’s art festival, the organizers were hoping to create a unique opportunity for student artists to gain experience and exposure in one of the country’s largest juried art shows. The initiative is sponsored by the Mystic Chamber Foundation.
“We really wanted to give them the experience of a big festival like this,” Worthington said.
Included in the festival will be the Children’s Art Park, sponsored by Groton Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, for parents and children to make some art of their own. Hands-on activities from local museums, cultural centers and organizations will be at the Mystic River Park. For more information about the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival, go to mysticchamber.org or call 860-572-9578.