April 13, 2019 10:00:18 PM
STARKVILLE -- Harry Day sat in Rick's Cafe Saturday afternoon behind a table displaying his artwork.
He was trying to sell metal sculptures, ink block prints and copies of a couple of books he has written to the fairly constant stream of the bar's customers shuffling past.
This was not the arrangement Day had planned for his Saturday, but he said it was working out for him pretty well, nonetheless.
"I've sold what I would during an 'OK' show at a big festival," he said. "I'm pushing every kind of item I have. ... I sold an ink block print within the first 30 minutes."
Day was among the 150 or so artists signed up for booths at the outdoor Cotton District Arts Festival, which was canceled abruptly Saturday morning when thunderstorms rolled through the area. The Canton resident and 1993 Mississippi State graduate was one of five art vendors who salvaged the day at Rick's.
Another was Ronni Brashear, a Jackson native and MSU art student, who was selling acrylic still-life painting just inside the cafe entrance. When she heard Rick's was offering space, she grabbed a few art pieces and a plastic-top table at her Cotton District apartment, she said, and arrived at the cafe by noon.
"I sold two paintings in the first hour," Brashear said. "I wasn't expecting to do much of anything, but I feel lucky to have this spot."
Starkville Area Arts Council Director John Bateman told The Dispatch the decision to cancel the festival came after prolonged discussions with the National Weather Service. As the forecast for Saturday's weather worsened, SAAC opted to cancel and announced the decision on social media.
"With the lightning and thunder this morning and expected through noon, we decided to make the call," Bateman said. "Unfortunately, there is no indoor alternative. We're disappointed, but we wanted to put public safety first."
Rick's Cafe already planned to host a crawfish boil in conjunction with CDAF. So, when the festival was canceled, he decided to make some room for at least some artists. By mid-afternoon, five art vendors were set up there and four bands had come through to play.
"We tweeted it and put it on (other) social media, and people started showing up," Welch said. "We put a message out on GroupMe asking for our employees to come help and people jumped in.
"It wasn't anything organized," he added. "We just put the word out and it started taking on a life of its own."
Other businesses through Starkville also jumped in through the day to help support the artists in town.
The Veranda scheduled an impromptu music night featuring the band 30 Fingers. Fred Rafus, a manager, said the restaurant hoped to give the musicians a chance to play and the people who came to town for the festival a chance to hear them.
"Any time that we can essentially give people what they want, that's what we try to do," he said. "It's very unfortunate the arts festival got canceled. We look forward to it every year and we want to be able to continue it however we can."
Welch said Saturday's efforts help to show what makes Starkville special, even in tough situations.
"It shows what kind of community we are," Welch said. "We're close-knit. If there's a need, businesses try to step in and fill it. There are a lot of business owners like that here in Starkville."
Event won't be rescheduled
CDAF, an annual event that coincides with Super Bulldog Weekend at MSU, drew about 50,000 people in 2018 and organizers this year were expecting a similar crowd Saturday.
Mississippi State University Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Relations Leah Beasley said much of the university's schedule for Super Bulldog Weekend remained as planned. However, she said the university moved the start time of MSU's baseball game against Alabama up to 1 p.m., instead of its originally planned 3 p.m. start time. The change put the baseball game and Maroon/White spring football game at the same time.
Bateman said CDAF's juried art exhibit went as planned, in MSU's Visual Arts Center on University Drive, with an extension set for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership building on Main Street.
Bateman pointed out it is logistically "nearly impossible" to move the festival to another day or weekend.
"There's a festival every weekend, and a lot of artists plan their circuit in advance," Bateman said. "We would lose a lot of our artists.
"That's the risk we face with an outdoor festival, and we've been lucky" he added. "As we were discussing the decision, as far as anyone could remember, we've only had two cancellations before due to inclement weather."