Amid colorful wisteria trees, a pair of tractors pull two sets of painted miniature trains depicting scenes of West Point, Miss. These Prairie Arts Trains carry festival-goers through the streets as hundreds of artists from across the South gather at Sally Kate Winters Park in downtown West Point on the tail end of each summer season. Paintings, sculptures and crafts line the sidewalks of Commerce Street, live music resounding nearby.
Taking place the Saturday before Labor Day, the Prairie Arts Festival has commemorated the area’s artistic heritage for more than four decades, with its 44th-annual iteration scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free festival features vendors, food, arts and crafts activities, art competitions and more.
Louise Campbell, a West Point native and the namesake of the town’s Louise Campbell Arts Center (235 Commerce St., West Point), partnered with fellow residents Lee Stafford, Norman Armstrong and David Malone to establish the festival in 1979 as a way to bring the arts into West Point, the county seat of Clay County.
Campbell, who was a member of the West Point Chamber of Commerce when she first planned the festival, also worked with former West Point City Manager Dewel Brashier to commission the construction of the Prairie Arts Trains, which city workers constructed from scratch specifically for use in the event. The two trains consist of four cars each, all of which are illustrated with West Point imagery. A pair of tractors pull the trains through the streets during the festival each year as one of the event’s centerpieces.
The Prairie Arts Festival originally took place in Marshall Park in West Point and moved to a location on Murff Row near the city’s Main Street before finally settling on its current location at Sally Kate Winters Park on Commerce Street, where the Louise Campbell Arts Center is also located.
“We get folks coming from all around for the festival, folks who have moved away coming home just for the festival and even people throwing family or class reunions based around it,” Campbell says. “There’s always been original art you could find around our parks, but with the festival I think it’s since become one of the most important things around here.”
Bringing the Arts, People to West Point
Prior to the main festival, runners will trek their way through a 5K starting at 8 a.m. The route will wind through downtown West Point and the city’s residential district before returning to the festival area at Sally Kate Winters Park.
The festival subsequently opens at 9 a.m. and will showcase more than 200 vendors in stalls along Commerce Street. Another highlight of the event is the David O. Malone Student Art Competition, a juried competition open to students residing in or attending grades K-12 in Clay County. All entries submitted to the competition will remain on display through Sept. 9 at the Bryan Public Library (436 Commerce St., West Point).
A separate Fine Arts Competition boasts a $1,000 best-in-show prize and includes categories for photography, painting, pottery, jewelry crafting, drawing, woodworking and glassmaking.
The Prairie Arts Festival will include live music on two stages throughout the day. Performers include The Crown Of Joy, Mississippi Mason, Old Memphis Kings, The Garrett Oswalt Band, Selah Grace, Gypsy-Priest, Chad Peavy, Committed and Ricky Langford.
Visitors can take their children to Kid Town, which will feature face painters, pony rides, a mechanical bull, swings, carnival rides and vendors with wares specifically geared toward children. Kids and adults alike can also ride the Prairie Arts Trains for $1 dollar per person.
In addition to art and music, the festival offers plenty of food vendors selling everything from funnel cake and snow cones to chicken on a stick and hand-cranked ice cream made with a tractor-powered ice-cream maker.
“In the early days, the Prairie Arts Festival served to bring the arts into West Point, but over the years we’ve become an arts community, and it’s the other way around,” Lisa Klutts, director of community development for the Prairie Arts Festival, says. “Now the festival serves as a way to bring people into West Point to enjoy the art we have here, like our murals.”
West Point is home to numerous murals, 13 of which West Point resident Deborah Mansfield, owner of Deborah Mansfield Decorative Painting, created herself. She started with a mural on the side of Cash and Carry Cleaners shortly after moving to West Point around 2012 and went on to do more on the West Point clock tower and buildings all along Commerce Street.
One of her more prominent works depicts blues singer Howlin’ Wolf, who was born in White Station, Miss., 18 miles from West Point.
“There was a period around 2009, when Bryan Foods closed down, that West Point suffered a blow to its identity, as it didn’t seem like it was ‘home’ to anything anymore,” Klutts says. “Deborah Mansfield’s murals helped change downtown for the better and have become a key part of revitalizing our arts scene alongside the festival.”
“I’m proud to be able to provide a place where people come from far and wide to promote the arts and to see a community that always looks forward to the festival as a long-standing tradition,” she concludes.
For more information on the Prairie Arts Festival, visit prairieartsfestival.org. For rules and additional information regarding the David O. Malone Student Art Competition, click here. Register for the Prairie Arts Festival 5K here.