Panoply Arts Festival: How It All Started

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The 2014 Panoply Arts Festival opened in Huntsville on Friday.  It’s one of the largest arts festivals in north Alabama.

The 32nd Panoply Arts Festival is taking place in downtown Huntsville’s Big Spring Park.

To understand how this event came to be, think back about three decades.
It was the first year of Panoply.

Think big hair and even bigger shoulder pads.

Growing up in Huntsville, I always knew about Panoply.  WHNT News 19 Reporter Megan Hayes says, “My mom was a Panoply chair back in the 80’s.  So, for a first hand look at just how much Panoply has grown over the decades, I’m going straight to the source.

“Back then, we didn’t even really have any arts festivals in the neighborhood or in north Alabama area,” Leslie Vallely says.

The Junior League of Huntsville started planning Panoply in 1979.

“They researched and went to all kinds of arts festivals all over the southeast.  They went to Spoleto (in Charleston). They went to New Orleans,” Vallely says.  “They did quite a bit of research and background before they even started into this.”

Now, fast forward to 1980.

Long story short, after years of research and surveys, The Junior League asked the Arts Council to co-sponsor the event.

And, that’s how Panoply was born.

“The city of Huntsville and the county came together and I think they were just as excited as we were,” Vallely says.

It was the start of something new. Something they were certain would be magical.

“It was a great time for people to be able to come out with their kids, and do art and music and for people who have never been exposed to any of that,” Vallely says. “It was an opportunity that this community had not seen before.”

32 years later Panoply is still going strong.

2 comments

  • lindamo27

    I started volunteering for Panoply back in ’93. I was a sub at Sparkman High School and one of the teachers I subbed for mentioned it and his wife was one of the chairs for face painting. I asked my son about it and he said he wanted to volunteer. I asked when and how long and he told me every day! Well in ’94-’98 we co-chaired the Face Painting, I was the chair person and had 2 or 3 others as co-chairs. I have fond memories of all those years and have seen changes both that I like and those that I wish hadn’t changed. I did see this year they have a $10 charge for those 13 and over. Sad to see that it has come to this but know that for years they were working hard to keep it free and only asking for donations. Haven’t been in a while, but will have to try and go next year. Didn’t see a lot of promotion this year and until Fri night didn’t even realize that it was going on this weekend.

  • kurt

    Having to pay $10.00 per person is a joke. Having police search you as you’re walking in the gate is a joke. Having six foot high fences around a public park is sad. Panoply could be great, but a family of four with kids over 13 are going to spend $40 just to get in the gate. Soon Panoply will be like the Big spring jam. Gone.

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