Dogwood Arts is a 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to promote and celebrate our region’s arts, culture, and natural beauty.
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History of Dogwood Arts:
In 1947, New York newspaper reporter John Gunther, came into town, checked out the area, then returned to New York and wrote “Knoxville is the ugliest city I ever saw in America, with the possible exception of some mill towns in New England. Its main street is called Gay Street; this seemed to me to be a misnomer.” Thus, in 1955, members of the Knoxville Garden Club, led by Betsey Creekmore, Martha Ashe and Betsy Goodson, along with a group of concerned citizens with a vision began a civic beautification project… the Dogwood Trails.
“A Commentary on the Dogwood Arts Festival” by Paul Harvey
“Over my shoulder, a backward glance. I had not been to Knoxville in eastern Tennessee for many years. I did not know what to expect. Approaching to land, I found myself flying over almost as much water as land. There’s got to be some good fishing down there, I thought to myself. But, within minutes of landing I was no longer thinking about fishing, nor boating, nor even golf.
In 1947, author John Gunther wrote a book called “Inside USA”. In that book he gratuitously referred to Knoxville as “America’s ugliest city”. The gentlefolk of Knoxville were at first hurt, then offended, and then indignant. If the central business district had been neglected; if industry had soiled, what author Gunther called “the scruffy little city on the Tennessee River”, homefolks had always looked beyond that- to the backdrop of mist blue mountains, lush foliage, through four gentle seasons, to charming residential architecture. And thriving in red clay, dogwood trees grew bigger and better than anywhere.
Nobody can claim credit for what happened next, everybody can. Stung by the New York author’s rude remark, the people of Knoxville, one household at a time, undertook to redecorate with dogwood and forsythia, with tulips and flocks and azaleas, and dogwood. They planted red bud, and flowering crab, and wisteria, and dogwood. Suddenly, what had appeared a myopic outsider as a “scruffy little city” became a big beautiful city- young again every spring. There’s something about the soul and the climate between the placid lakes and the sloping meadows and the stone bluffs of the Smokies. There’s something about Knoxville that makes dogwood trees grow taller. Blossoms are giant-sized. Pink hybrids are a translucent pink. On shady slopes you’ll see wild dogwood- Pliant branches creating a fountain from the top of a limbless trunk, and then drooping gracefully down in a waterfall of white blossoms. And in residential streets, the nurtured dogwoods are resplendent by day and moonlighted by night.
It was their Dogwood Arts Festival I attended in early April. Over 35 years, that Festival has grown to where it hosts a quarter-million visitors for its grand garden party. There are violets and iris, many apples carpeting the woodland floors, May apples. There are lilacs and narcissus, and a rainbow of flowering fruit trees, but mostly along half a hundred miles of trails, into and through and around the city is a springtime blizzard of blossoms of dogwood.
Knoxville, Tennessee read the rude rebuke of a hit and run writer and got mad, and closed ranks, and got even. And then thus motivated, and now mobilized, irresistible Knoxville waits to seduce all who may pass that way with a golden crown of Smoky Mountain moonlight and a negligee of white lace.”
Some Dogwood Arts milestones:
1955: Dogwood Trails are established
1961: First Dogwood Arts Festival
1970: Bob Hope appears at Festival
1972: Elvis Presley performs at Stokley Athletics Center
1977: First Limited Edition Print
1978: House & Garden Show established
1979: A Very Special Arts Festival established
2009: Bazillion Blooms and Chalk Walk established
2010: Dogwood Arts Festival celebrates 50 years
2014: 54th anniversary of the Dogwood Arts Festival and 60th anniversary of the Dogwood Trails
Board of Directors:
Brandon Parks, President
Janet Testerman, Vice President
Kevin McCollum, Treasurer
Dino Cartwright, Secretary
Erin Burns Freeman
2014 Festival Co-Chairs:
Janet Testerman Crossley
Sharon Miller Pryse
L. Caesar Stair, III
William B. Stokely, IV