On the weekend of April 14 the Atlanta Dogwood Festival will transform Piedmont Park into a fine art showcase featuring the works of 280 artists, live music performances, kids village, VIP experiences, and a 5K qualifying event for the Peachtree Road Race. Executive Director Brian Hill spared a few minutes to share his excitement about the 2023 Festival as well as the challenges that they are facing in a post-Covid world. 

Shoppers peruse art booths at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. Provided.

“This is a shared multigenerational experience,” said Hill. The Atlanta Dogwood Festival is the third oldest fine art festival in Atlanta, and Hill recalled how many attendants began attending the festival as children with their grandparents and are now parents or grandparents themselves. Beyond offering an incredible selection of art to purchase, the event is a beloved tradition for families across the region. 

Hill has been working with the Atlanta Dogwood Festival since 2008 when he said he “jumped in with both feet” at the height of the recession. That year there was an additional challenge in that there was a historic drought which necessitated that the festival be moved to a parking lot at Lenox Square. Ironically enough, all three days of the festival brought torrential rain. Hill looks back on this turn of events with fondness now, and though he freely admits what a challenging time that was he can also see the benefit of being able to return to Piedmont Park the following year and reimagine the way they operated. “It was sort of like a new beginning,” said Hill. 

Another element that sets the festival apart is the high school art exhibition. It has been a feature of the festival for many years and highlights budding artists from more than 70 metro Atlanta schools. “Many of the students who have participated in that exhibition have gone on to become professional artists,” Hill remarked. “The quality of the high school art seems to be getting better and better. They aren’t doing it for commercial reasons, they are doing it as self expression. It always amazes me.” 

The Atlanta High School Art Exhibition asks students to compete in much the same way as the professional artists. Of 600-some entries, there are only around 180 that are chosen for the exhibit. “It’s a real awakening for these young artists,” said Hill. “For them to get out there and be able to display their art the way that professional artists do, you see their pride.” Winning student artists receive over $40,000 of supplies, scholarships, and prizes from the Atlanta Dogwood Festival each year. 

During the Saturday afternoon of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival is one of the most popular student-only art events. The Art Throwdown is a timed art competition that pits individual students against one another to create portraits of one another and teams compete to create something out of a selection of materials. The works are judged and the competitors whittle down until only the best artists are left. “People will be yelling and screaming, it’s fun to see people doing art in a sports-like atmosphere.”

In recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, free art festivals have struggled to contend with rising costs and evolving logistical concerns. One significant change this year is that there will not be two stages, and instead one performance space will transform from the International Stage to the Coca-Cola stage later in the evening. In brighter news, 2023 marks the return of midway rides such as whirligigs and ferris wheels. Carnival rides have been a long standing favorite for parents, and when Covid rendered that impossible it was a tough pill to swallow. 

As for Hill’s favorite part of the festival, it’s the performances. “It’s really energetic,” said Hill. “When everybody is in a great mood it’s a really great place to be.” This year’s lineup of dance includes Burlesque, Irish, Flamenco, Chinese, Indian, Cuban, Bulgarian, Polynesian, Mexican, and Turkish dance. Live music performances slated for the festival include Jessie Albright, Rae and the Ragdolls, and the Deja Bluegrass Band, among others.

The Atlanta Dogwood Festival is, as always, free and open to the public. A massive, sprawling art market, plus carnival rides, good eats, live music, dance performances, and more will call Piedmont Park home from Fri., Apr. 14 through Sun., Apr. 16. Read more on the Atlanta Dogwood Festival website.

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Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.