While a fall weekend in Starkville may typically conjure images of tailgating tents and ringing cowbells, this weekend students and residents can expect a completely different experience from Mississippi's College Town. On Saturday, the Cotton District Arts Festival will return to Starkville, transforming University Drive into one of the largest arts festivals in the state of Mississippi. The free event will run down University Drive, Maxwell Street and Paige Avenue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Typically held during Super Bulldog Weekend, the Cotton District Arts Festival has been a Mississippi staple since its first occurrence in 1986. The Starkville Area Arts Council (SAAC) has hosted the festival for over 22 years, with support from sponsors and volunteers, as well as the city.
However, for Mississippi State University students or those who have recently moved to the area, this weekend may be the first experience they have with the Cotton District Arts Festival. Emily Corban Camp, the chair of this year's festival, explained that this festival has been especially anticipated, as it has been two years in the making.
"In 2019 the festival was scheduled to go forward, we just had terrible weather, so we had to cancel it even though everything was all set up to go as normal. After that, we were planning for the festival in 2020 and then the world just shut down," Camp said. "We looked into having it in the spring of 2021, but the COVID numbers just weren't where we wanted them, so we weren't comfortable doing it with the traditional date in the spring. But we didn't want to wait a whole year to have it in the spring of 2022, so that is why we are having it in the fall."
This year, Starkville pets will kick off the festival with a pet parade at 9 a.m. Throughout the day patrons can expect to experience the Artisan's Village, where over 145 artisans will display and sell their handmade goods. The festival will also feature an International Village similar to MSU's annual International Fiesta, a Children's Village for children to explore their artistic abilities and a Writer's Village with various events including a poetry competition. Additionally, there are three stages which will feature live music from local bands such as Huge Ghost and Celery Teeth, as well as community performances. Over 20 local food vendors will present, and the SAAC is excited to serve beer for the first time at the festival.
According to the Cotton District Arts Festival's website, between 30,000 to 40,000 people typically gather to attend one of Mississippi's top 5 festivals. Juliette Reid, this year's administrative support and volunteer chair for the festival, noted the benefit this has for the city.
"Not only does the festival benefit the Cotton District, but it benefits Starkville as a whole because of tourism. People are staying at a hotel, people are eating at local restaurants, people are shopping. You have people supporting all kinds of different businesses whether we know about it or not," Reid said.
While the numbers in past years have grown consistently, due to the new date as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAAC does not know what to expect for this year's turnout. Corban explained that while they hope for a great crowd, the focus of this year's festival is supporting vendors.
"The main thing is we just want to support our vendors and give them a platform to sell their products," Corban said.
These vendors will be selling everything from jewelry, to ceramics, to leather goods, to paintings, to photographs, to handmade soaps and much more. Heather Warren, a local business owner, has participated in the festival as a patron, a vendor and this year will be participating as a volunteer. Warren expressed how valuable the festival is for vendors specifically.
"I really liked being there as a vendor. I felt like the arts council did a lot to support the vendors, as well as pulling people in to attend the event as well. The Cotton District Arts Festival is an artisan's festival. It is for people who make things with their hands, and for people who operate in a very small business way," Warren said.
Over the course of the 17 years that Warren has lived in Starkville, she has seen the positive impact of the festival on the city of Starkville, especially the art community.
"I think the Cotton District Arts Festival is really an amazing thing for the city of Starkville, but larger than that, the art community in general. This is one of the largest arts festivals in the area, and people come from all over to be a part of it. It brings a lot of people to Starkville that may not be a part of our traditional community, which is more sports-oriented. For people who aren't sports-oriented like me, that is one of the things that I get really excited about," Warren said.
As students and residents celebrate gathering together again, the Cotton District Arts Festival offers a unique and creative experience for both loyal supporters and students looking for something to do during an away game.