Many of those anticipating this weekend’s Tomato Art Festival, East Nashville’s 14th annual celebration of music, food, and community, may not realize that the event grew out of an art showcase put on by Art & Invention Gallery. The Tomato Art Show returns to the gallery this weekend as part of the festival and will remain on display until Sept. 10.
“The Tomato Art Show came before the festival,” gallery owner Meg MacFadyen says. “My gallery is always kind of warm inside at that time of year, and I wanted to think of something that would entice people to come out despite the heat. … Since they are my favorite part of summer, we decided to do a tomato art show. For some reason that I will never know, about 1,000 people came to the art opening.”
With such a successful opening, MacFadyen decided to do it again in subsequent years, and eventually, a festival was born. Though the Tomato Art Festival has grown to showcase live musical performances, local vendors, and a Bloody Mary competition, the art show, presenting artist’s takes on the namesake fruit/vegetable, remains a central focus.
“I try to show as many styles of art as possible,” MacFadyen explains. “And I try to include as many artists as possible. I always tell the artists to do what they already do, just use the tomato as their inspiration. We get so much inventive work because of it, every year the show gets better. I think it is because the artists see what others have done, and it gives them new directions to take their thinking for the following year.”
MacFadyen has all but guaranteed the best show to date, with an expanded gallery accommodating more work and a preview party on Friday evening catered by Citizens Kitchen. Like the festival at large, its growth is a reflection of East Nashville’s evolution over the years.
“Initially, I think that Tomato Art Fest was important because it got people out of their houses to meet their neighbors and get to know them,” MacFadyen says. “It was a community of people invested in their neighborhood, and they worked hard to make it thrive. As the festival grew, I feel like it went from just an East Nashville thing to include the community of greater Nashville. Which is a good thing because, as we all know, the tomato is a uniter not a divider, bringing together fruits and vegetables.”