Interview with Samantha Saturn, who runs the Annual Nashville American Artisan Festival
The American Artisan Festival is entering its 44th year in June. How long have you been involved and what drew you to the festival?
The festival was founded by my late mother, Nancy Saturn, when I was just a baby, so I’ve essentially been at or a part of the festival every summer of my life. Over the years, I had many different roles, from working in the drink booth, to running the information booth, to selecting the artists alongside my mother. Having grown up around these artists every summer I learned that these artists make their beautiful and personal artwork all by hand. Their craft is undeniable. Being able to present them and their work to the Nashville community every summer under the shade of the trees is something I’ve always loved being a part of. It is truly a celebration of beauty, family, art, nature and fun—what’s better than that?
How important is it that you create and carry on the tradition of showcasing the very best in American handcrafts and fine art?
When my mother was dying, we actually talked about the festival. She knew how deep my love of the art fair was and also that she wouldn’t live to see its 40th year. That day she said to me, “Sammy, I think you should run the show for me this year, but then after that use it is a platform for creativity and joy just as I have done if you so choose—but don’t feel obligated, and don’t ever feel you need to do this event to honor me. You have honored me every day by being my daughter and I only want you to live your life, your way.” I check in with that conversation every year. It has guided me over the years and given me the freedom to continue, or to stop producing the festival, based on what I think will serve everyone the best. For now, I know for sure, it means having the opportunity to present this incredible festival.
Tell us about the new public art section of the festival.
Living in New York City for so many years, I had the opportunity to visit a number of incredible temporary art exhibitions—like Jaume Plensa’s Echo in Madison Square Park, and Christo and Jean-Claude’s’ The Gates in Central Park to name a few. These were some of my favorite art experiences in NYC because they created something special in a public space for everyone to enjoy, and more importantly, with each project it changed the way I felt about the urban landscape through these works of art. When I came back home to Nashville to rebuild the festival, I kept thinking about those installations and how they uplifted my soul and changed my point of view in all of those city parks. As a companion to what has always been a wonderful art event in and of itself, I hope the temporary art installations bring a little extra joy and perhaps change the way you experience art and Nashville even if just for a moment.
How many people are involved in the advance planning of the festival?
I have an incredible team around me – most specifically the team at Good Neighbor Festivals. Essentially, we partner on everything and without them it would not be nearly as well organized, or as fun! I also work with SESAC who curates and books our singer-songwriter and Americana writers and performers which is an amazing partnership as well.
What challenges have you faced so far?
As a career marketer for many years, it is increasingly challenging to know how best to build awareness about our event in Nashville. I know about all the outlets and opportunities, but every day I say to myself, is there anything else I can do to make sure people know about The American Artisan Festival? With so many choices of activities every single weekend, I just want to make sure we do everything we can to get the word out both for Nashvillians who will love this event, as well as for the incredible artists, musicians and food vendors who want to connect with them at the show.
Centennial Park has been home of the festival for the past 30 years. Why did you feel this was the best venue for this type of festival?
I have to answer this one on behalf of my late mother. I know that at the time (I was a teenager then) she felt that the beautiful setting under the big magnolia trees in front of Centennial Park and just down from The Parthenon was like a dream. The festival had lived in a few other places in Nashville before that, which were never as beautiful as the front of the park, and nothing could compare to the majestic Parthenon as a backdrop. I do feel the show is somewhat synonymous with Centennial Park after all this time, and I hope to continue to work with The Conservancy, and Metro Parks as we have collaboratively for so many years.
What do you want festival-goers to take away from the annual American Artisan Festival?
First off, I hope they buy something beautiful for themselves or for a special person! I also hope to create a little extra joy in people’s lives. For me, connecting with fine artists and collecting art feeds the soul. Our 150 artists will be showcasing everything from a $25 bowl to a $2500 bracelet--and having the opportunity to shop for all of that under the trees in Centennial Park along with great music, food, cocktails, public art and kids art activities too creates a great experience for families, tourists and natives alike.
Looking ahead, is there a limit when you say that you won't do it anymore or is it really an everlasting festival?
Again, I always check in with that conversation I had so many years ago with my mother. I love the festival for so many reasons: bringing people together to collect and enjoy art from so many incredible artists; providing an outlet for those artists to connect to Nashville and sell their works in the beautiful setting of Centennial park; and creating an uplifting and fun experience that marries all of that with a deep sense of family and community—to me those are all the reasons to keep it going. That said, I also learned a long time ago that you have to just take it one year at a time, to be conscious, and to be open to change if that is what needs to happen. For now, I’m so thrilled to get to create it again this year and I hope to see you there!
The American Artisan Festival is free, family-friendly, and open to the public. There will be 150 artists from across America, fun kid-friendly art projects, an amazing range of artisanal food, drink and craft cocktails-- a perfect outing for Father’s Day Weekend. Stay tuned for more announcements including live music performances that run all weekend long curated by SESAC.
The American Artisan Festival is located on the front of Centennial Park in Nashville, TN
Friday, June 15 - 12pm to 8pm
Saturday, June 16 - 10am to 7pm
Sunday, June 17 - 10am to 5pm
For more information, please visit https://www.americanartisanfestival.com/.