By Christina Autry
On October 15th, Spring Branch resident and longtime art-lover Kelly Batterson signed on as the new Executive Director of Houston’s Bayou City Art Festival (BCAF). Batterson has hit the ground running, with October’s downtown festival in the rear-view mirror, and the Memorial Park event on the horizon for March.“ This is the perfect time for me to step up and take this position,” she says enthusiastically, “and I look forward to doing some creative things, bring a new energy to the festivals, and get new audiences to join us in appreciating art.”
Batterson may be new to this position, but she is a veteran of event production. She has coordinated the Woodlands Waterway Art Festival, Houston’s International Festival, and an array of large-scale, public events in our city. “I’ve been in the event business for a very long time,” she says. Having moved to Houston in 1986, Batterson has since served in event management, from work in TV production, to sales, including many projects for the City of Houston.
She and her family moved to Spring Branch ten years ago, in order for her daughter to attend Spring Woods High School. Batterson reflects, “I have watched Spring Branch change over the years, in a great way. You’re seeing so many more restaurants and businesses. It’s a great place to live. It’s so convenient, being so close to downtown, Memorial City, City Center, and the beltway. It has everything you need.”
“I’ve always been familiar with BCAF through my work around the city,” she remembers. “The festival began in the late 80’s, on Westheimer. Residents and shop owners in the Montrose area put together the Westheimer Art Festival, on the street. Over the years, it evolved and grew, and eventually they started having it twice a year.” Revealing how much national attention the festival has received, half of this fall’s artists were from Texas, and half were from 34 other states.
Now, the fall event held on the streets surrounding City Hall is attended by about 15,000 art fans, enjoying the unique urban vibe that comes from shutting down roads normally packed with cars. The Memorial Park event in the spring sees up to 20,000 guests, appreciating the leisurely calm of the outdoor galleries shaded by the trees of the park. Three hundred artists at each location display breathtaking paintings, photography, jewelry, sculptures, mixed-media of all varieties, among the spectrum of innovative pieces.
“I’m astounded by the talent that our artists have,” says Batterson. “When I walk into the booths, it’s amazing to see creative people are. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, you come across something that blows your mind,” she laughs.
With the 50th anniversary of the festival approaching in 2021, Batterson views the Executive Director position as “a new opportunity and a new challenge.” She wants to continue leaning into aspects of the festival that Houstonians cherish, while incorporating new and unexpected experiences. “We’re always going to be a fine arts festival, but we want to expand on the different types of art that we can celebrate,” she says.
“Not only do we want to enhance the visual arts, but the culinary, and performing arts as well,” explains Batterson. Concepts brainstormed have included a culinary arts stage, cooking demonstrations, food tastings, wine pairings, and what Batterson calls “site animation” that will add even more live action to the festival. The poet’s corner offering “five-minute poems” at this fall’s event was a fun example of this interactive approach. “We’re playing around with some ideas on how to connect the work of next spring’s featured artist, McKensie Fisk, with what we can do on site,” says Batterson.
The festival proudly shares proceeds with a range of local non-profits, who donate their time to the festival by sending droves of much-needed volunteers for set-up, artist check-in, manning the information booth, among many tasks integral to the festival’s success.
BCAF would love to see is supported by City of Houston grants, Houston Arts Alliance as well as a number of business sponsors, a relationship that Batterson wants to see expanded upon as well. “We want to branch out and explore how we can get our sponsors involved in something fun and interesting within the event. We want to continue to grow and nurture these relationships,” she says. Through these critical sponsorships, the new and inventive additions to the festival will be possible.
BCAF is now accepting artist applications for the Memorial Park event on March 27-29. A holiday ticket promotion will begin on December 2nd, as Houstonians “give the gift of art” to their friends and family. December 2nd is also the deadline for their “Call For Artists.” Applications and tickets can be found at artcolonyassociation.org. With fresh ideas along with tradition, festival-goers who have attended BCAF since the 70’s will enjoy it as much as those experiencing this Houston institution for the first time.