OCEAN SPRINGS, Mississippi — In 1978, local artist Klara Koock approached Betty Godwin-Walker, then director of the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, with an idea: an arts & crafts festival to allow the many local artists to show off their work.
Godwin-Walker and the chamber board embraced the idea. Naturally, the famed Anderson family of artists was approached and Margaret Anderson, daughter-in-law of Peter Anderson, came on board, ultimately taking charge of the festival.
That first year, there were 56 booths in the chamber of commerce parking lot.
“When we started out, it was mostly to get the local artists to come out and show their wares,” Margaret Anderson would say later. “It went really well.”
“Really well” might be the greatest understatement in the long, storied history of understatements.
Saturday morning, the Peter Anderson Festival — the name the event took on in 1984 after Peter’s death from ALS — will open for its 43rd run in downtown Ocean Springs. More than 300 vendors are expected, with the attendance expected to be upwards of 150,000 people over the two-days of the festival.
The current chamber director, Cynthia Sutton, acknowledged that last year’s event presented challenges due to COVID-19. This year, she and everyone else involved are excited to see the festival return to normal, mostly.
Many of last year’s precautions are gone, save the distancing of the booths. Prior to 2020, it was not uncommon for the festival to feature more than 400 vendors, but this year that number will again be closer to 300.
“We’re going to have the booths six feet apart again, as we did last year,” Sutton said. “We’re still proceeding cautiously, but everyone is really excited. Last year, we had a number of vendors cancel (due to COVID concerns), but there have hardly been any cancellations this year. That’s really amazing.”
In fact, Sutton said there was a lengthy waiting list of vendors who, were it not for the reduced number, might otherwise have been in the festival.
“Again, this is a juried show,” she noted. “They go through a process to get in, but there are some vendors who wanted to come in who have been in before that weren’t able to get in because of the spacing.
“But at the same time, it helps keep the quality up with the reduced number of vendors. Will this be our new norm? Maybe so.”
After 43 years, it would seem a difficult task to continue find new things to offer at the festival, but year after year the chamber staff and its army of festival volunteers does just that.
This year, festival merchandise is expanding to include more than just the always-popular festival t-shirts. In addition to the short sleeve and long sleeve shirts, tank tops will be offered, along with other items such as tumblers with the festival logo.
“We’re expanding the merchandise because that’s something that people have asked for,” Sutton said.
One very noticeable change will be the live music offerings. Instead of the musical acts being confined to one performance area, they will be spread out across the festival grounds.
“That’s kind of cool, relaxing and showcases that music is art, as well,” Sutton said, adding that all of the acts are solo artists, save for one band which will perform.
Returning this year after a one-year, COVID-prompted absence is the shuttle service to bring festival-goers into the event footprint.
Vehicles can be parked at one of three locations — Greyhound Stadium, Ocean Springs Upper Elementary or Oak Park Elementary — and board buses for the short trip to the festival entrance.
Sutton said they are also working Downtown Cart Rentals to provide golf cart rides to the festival grounds.
The Peter Anderson Festival runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. For more information, visit the event website at www.peterandersonfestival.com.