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

April 1995

“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: 60th Anniversary of the Dogwood Trails

Letter from our Executive Director

A servant-leader acknowledges that his own healing is sometimes his motivation. Something positive is communicated to one being served if, it is understood that the search for wholeness is something they share. – Robert Greenleaf

Sixty-one. A memorable number. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record … in 1961. Bob Dylan made Highway 61 famous with his album “Highway 61 Revisited.” And in 1961, Market Square provided the backdrop for the first Dogwood Arts Festival.

Sixty-one years after the start of the Dogwood Trails, we are now simply Dogwood Arts. We changed our name to reflect and support our mission and our goal to be more than just a festival, but rather to be a year-round celebration of art, culture and natural beauty in our region.

Volunteers are vital to our mission – Thank you, each of you, who attended, supported and celebrated all that this region has to offer in artistic talent, culture, innovation and natural beauty.

All of us at Dogwood Arts — staff, board and sponsors — want to shout from the highest of dogwood trees, “Thank you!” to all the volunteers over the last 61 years who have provided the sweat equity that cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Please excuse perhaps one of the most over-utilized of “thank you” clichés, but no truer words have ever been written: We could not do it without you. Period. End of story.

Tom Cervone, Executive Director

Letter from our Board President

For me, springtime and April have always been synonymous with Dogwood Arts – dogwood trails, live entertainment, and Market Square hosting local craftspeople for a month-long extravaganza. Stories of Elvis and Bob Hope performing as part of our April celebration still linger from those who, year after year, recollect the 55-year-long Dogwood Arts tradition. It is Knoxville’s barometer that spring has indeed sprung. My reaquaintence of Dogwood Arts over the past five years, however, has been enlightening and has proven that this remarkable organization blooms all year long! We have a House & Garden Show in February. Rhythm N’ Blooms, Dogwood Arts Festival, Chalk Walk, Bikes & Blooms, and a multitude of other events debut annually in April. The fourth annual Knoxville Film Festival will premier in August.  And December’s Bazillion Blooms sees that hundreds of dogwood saplings are planted throughout the community. So you see, Dogwood Arts isn’t just a festival anymore. Dogwood Arts is a 12-month celebration of the thousands of artists who share their talents and of our mission to promote and celebrate the region’s arts, culture, and natural beauty. And whether you call this great city of Knoxville home, or you have joined us from hundreds of miles away, we welcome you and hope you will join us in exploring all that Dogwood Arts has to offer, both now and the whole year through. Enjoy!

Janet Testerman
President, Board of Directors
Dogwood Arts

2017 Board of Directors

Janet Testerman, President
Shanna Browning, President Elect
Brandon Parks, Past President
Jill Neace, Treasurer
Eric Botts, Secretary
Mike Mangione, At-Large

2017 Dogwood Arts Co-Chairs:
Dino Cartwright
Jennifer Holder

Colin Anderson
Jim Biggs
Jessica Brock
Lindsay Cates
Jim Dodson
Erin Donovan
Holly Hambright
Chuck Henry
Nancy Howard
Sherry Jenkins
Bob Thomas
Ned Vickers
Bart Watkins

Advisory Board

Patrick Birmingham
David Butler
Lanis Cope
Betsey Creekmore
Joan Cronan
Mike Edwards
Sam Furrow
Dale Keasling
Lloyd King
Bill Lyons
Eddie Mannis
Mike McClamroch
Alvin Nance
Brandon Parks
Sharon Miller Pryse
Rhonda Rice
L. Caesar Stair, III
William B. Stokely, IV

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