The 2024 Kentuck Festival of the Arts will be held in Tuscaloosa, not in the event's 50-year home at Kentuck Park in Northport, leaders officially confirmed Wednesday.

Factors leading up to the explosive move have been building all year long, but the news comes three weeks after the arts-centered nonprofit put word out that they were exploring options to host the 2024 Festival at a new venue because of stalled negotiations with officials in Northport City Hall.

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The Thread has published plenty about that disagreement, but for the unfamiliar, the first clear sign of trouble surfaced in September, when the city of Northport adopted its annual budgets and provided $1 million in agency funding to more than 20 different organizations in the region - everyone but the Kentuck Art Center.

The budget originally included a line item to give $68,000 to Kentuck in Fiscal Year 2024, but Council President Jeff Hogg asked that it be removed from relevant resolutions before they were adopted. At the time, he said Northport and Kentuck were working to "negotiate a contract for a long-term relationship."

That contract had a few sticking points for Kentuck.

First, it was smaller than the $75,000 they received in Fiscal Year 2023. That might not feel personal in tough economic times, but Northport City attorney Ron Davis has since said in a public meeting that the reduction was a kind of rebuke for a lawsuit the arts organization filed earlier this year against entrepreneur Cathy Logan and her husband Jay Logan, who was President of the Northport City Council until he lost his 2020 re-election bid. The lawsuit was dropped days later when the Logans' business, which opened as 'Kentuck Nutrition,' was voluntarily renamed to 'KenTu Nutrition.'

Secondly, the proposed contract said the annual Festival of the Arts would be held in Northport for the next five years but did not explicitly say it would be held at Kentuck Park.

(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)
(Stephen Dethrage | Tuscaloosa Thread)

As the city works aggressively to develop its signature riverside Northport Shore park and River Run Park ball complex right beside the Park, some worried the Festival might be forced off its longtime home but contractually obligated to stay in Northport.

Last week, city attorney Ron Davis scoffed at the idea that those details were a legitimate concern, asking where in Northport the Festival would be held if not at Kentuck Park. After Davis gave a long presentation and called Kentuck's outgoing executive director a liar who was plotting to "kidnap" the Festival, the Northport city council approved a sweetheart one-year contract giving Kentuck $80,000, not $68,000, but it was too little, too late.

Kentuck has declined to meet with Northport this week or sign the new contract, and on Tuesday night, on the other side of the Black Warrior River, the Tuscaloosa City Council approved a memorandum of agreement with Kentuck.

Neither party commented on the matter Tuesday night, but they confirmed the decision in a press release Wednesday morning.

The Festival will either be held in Snow Hinton Park in Central Tuscaloosa or at the newly renamed Parker-Haun Park on October 19th and 20th, 2024.

“A new location for the Kentuck Festival of the Arts means new challenges, but also new opportunities,” said Bobby Bragg, Kentuck Art Center’s board president. “We have very high expectations for the 2024 festival. We have the utmost confidence in the people running this organization on a day-to-day basis to fulfill Kentuck’s mission to perpetuate the arts, engage the community, and empower the artist.”

“We are immensely grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received from all corners of the state,” said Bragg. “Thank you to the City of Tuscaloosa for their quick action, respect for the arts, and partnership moving forward.”

“In the last several days, we have worked with Kentuck to explore ways to retain the festival in our region,” Mayor Walt Maddox said. “This festival is a nationally recognized and time-honored event, and it was critical it stay in our community.”

Kentuck leadership also noted they will retain a major presence in Northport, where the Kentuck Art Center is a cornerstone of the Historic Downtown area.

“Kentuck Art Center & Festival’s future is bright, and we look forward to continuing to preserve and perpetuate the rich artistic legacy in West Alabama,” said Amy Echols, Kentuck Art Center’s executive director. “The Kentuck Festival of the Arts is always a large component of our programming, but we invite each and every one of you to visit Kentuck Art Center’s campus in Historic Downtown Northport for our other incredible events, which include Art Nights, Saturday Art Markets, and the variety of workshops we have for all ages.”

Artists who would like to apply to be an exhibitor at the 53rd Kentuck Festival of the Arts can apply March 1-June 1, 2024. For more information about the application process, visit our website and sign up for email reminders so you don’t miss any deadlines.

For more on the Festival as it becomes available, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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Gallery Credit: (Brittany Marshall|Tuscaloosa Thread)

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