It began in 1968 when a small group known as the Mill Avenue Merchants Association created a sidewalk-sale event.
A half century later, it has grown into a world-class, award-winning staple in the arts scene, drawing nearly a quarter-million visitors every fall to downtown Tempe.
The Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts celebrates its golden anniversary Nov. 30 through Dec. 2, with some special changes to mark the historic milestone. The festival takes place rain or shine 10 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. daily.
“The admirable history of the Tempe Festival of the Arts has to do just as much with the city’s respect for the artist community as it does the world-class artists and attendees from all walks of life themselves,” said Kate Borders, executive director of the Downtown Tempe Authority.
“Nearly a quarter of a million people from around the globe make Tempe their destination each fall for art buying, collecting and incomparable holiday gift shopping, and that commitment to the art world sets our festival apart and puts Arizona on the map.”
Originally organized by Mill Avenue Merchants Association executive director Frank Maguire, it was known as Hayden’s Ferry Art Festival in Old Town Tempe.
This year, the award-winning and nationally-acclaimed 3-day festival anticipates as many as 375 booths lining Mill Avenue and surrounding streets, presenting unique and handmade artwork that offers visitors a fantastic urban art experience.
Visitors encounter an array of art in the open-air market from more than 350 juried vendors in ceramics, digital art, drawing, fiber, glass, jewelry, leather, metalwork, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, upcycled and creative reuse and wood.
The open-air festival boasts a vibrant, carnival-like atmosphere with artists’ booths and tents punctuated by strolling street performers, musicians and food-and-drink vendors.
New for this year are amped and revamped favorites and new programs:
— Expanded food and drink offerings.
— Beer and wine gardens stocked with locally-produced and purveyed beer, wine and distilled spirits.
— A new Young Collectors program, encouraging children’s passion for the arts.
— Holiday gift shopping with one-of-a-kind, handmade art, jewelry and home goods.
— Tempe’s fashion incubator F.A.B.R.I.C. hosting a runway fashion show, featuring Arizona talent.
Two performance stages, Centerpoint Stage and Hayden Station Stage (formerly Amphitheatre Stage), showcase a range of musical talent, including award-winning Tempe musician Walt Richardson, Valley performers Hyperbella, Sugahbeat and The Hourglass Cats, as well as urban acts lAZ School of Hip Hop Phx, Hi Dreams, Stoneypie and a HOT 97.5 Stage Take Over.
The Unplugged Lounge offers shaded seating with acoustic recording artists Korbe Canida, Chad Gregory, Whitney Jones and El Klezmer.
Dozens of performers roam the street, including dance troupes, a unicyclist, balloon art, break dancing with PWR Dance Team and a Bluegrass Camp with Jam Pak.
The public is invited to join Valley artist Kylan Maney to create a commemorative art piece for the festival’s 50th anniversary.
Tempe Festival of the Arts serves up numerous options for drinking, snacking or taking home handmade goodies. There are two beer and wine gardens featuring Valley-brewed beers as well as selections from Arizona-based wineries and distilleries.
While the festival has appeal for all ages, families are particularly drawn to its free admission and lively atmosphere. Kids Block is a hands-on interactive for young artists and a youth exhibition featuring 300-plus student works from around the Valley on display and for sale.
Also featured is an array of K-12 art in the Young Artist Exhibition and Competition. New this year is the Young Collectors program, where a child can begin an art collecting journey by purchasing a piece handcrafted by professional artists for $5.
Another family favorite is Chalk-A-Lot Street, with a curated section where professional chalk muralists compete for awards and festival goers experiment with street chalk.
While general parking and ADA-accessible parking are available at select garages, street meters and paid lots around Tempe, the most convenient ways in and out of the festival are by bike, foot or public transportation, including Valley Metro light rail, which has nearby stops at Third Street and Mill Avenue and at Tempe Transportation Center at Veterans Way and College Avenue.
More information about the 50th Fall Tempe Festival of the Arts is available on the newly relaunched and reloaded festival website, tempefestivalofthearts.com.