Destinations

Inside Bellevue’s First Festival by Artists, for Artists

The annual arts and culture event captures the heart of the city.

The Bellevue, Washington skyline. Photo Credit Colin Walker, City of Bellevue

Thirty-four years ago, a group of artists in Bellevue, Washington, known as the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest (CCNW), were fed up with the city’s fine-art fair culture. They wanted to create an event that would involve and give back to the community, one that local artists would be excited to be a part of. So they leased three parking lots from local landlords as the location for their new festival and the city’s first-ever Rest of the Best Fest, now the Bellevue Festival of the Arts, was born.  

“We are still leasing today from one of those families,” Ann Sutherland, one of the coordinators of the festival, explains to Convene. “The founding ideas of the Craft Cooperative of the Northwest were simple: Give any proceeds collected from the booth fees back to the community that supported them.”

BFOA painter Justin Hillgrove at his booth

When the festival was created, a jury of artists was formed to “ensure quality and fair selection of art,” Sutherland says. This year, held July 27-29, the event will attract “175 top artists and craftspeople, providing festivalgoers with “access to superb, one-of-a-kind finely crafted art, from jewelry, photography, textiles, glass, fine art, woodwork, pottery, sculpture, and much more,” Sutherland explains. “As well as providing the unique and memorable opportunity to meet the gifted artists who create them. It’s truly an arts festival with both heart and art combined.”

Sutherland, who’s worked on the event for 22 years, says the Bellevue Festival of the Arts takes a village to produce every year. “I still am impressed with the quality of support we receive here,” she says. “From the business and service communities, hotels and nonprofits, to media, the various city departments, and other art and social events, I find the people of Bellevue friendly and happy to go out of their way to help.”

BFOA attendees come from all over the country

CCNW works with local vendors every year to provide food and drink for attendees, who come from all over the country — “as far away as New York, Florida, and Louisiana,” according to Sutherland. There also are live performances from local artists, like singers and dancers from the Tibetan Language & Culture Class of the Tibetan Association of Washington. The group also collaborates with the city’s DMO to pull off the annual festival. “We’re always so privileged to work with Visit Bellevue,” Sutherland says, “and are grateful for the unfailing support, promotion, and visibility they provide to us each year.”

The Gunter Reimnitz Sculpture, made by artist Abraxas Crow

After 34 years, the festival has found the perfect home in the Pacific Northwest destination. “Bellevue is a vibrant growing city on Lake Washington, not far from the countryside with mountain hiking, rivers, lakes, and just a few miles from Seattle and the saltwater beaches,” Sutherland says. “With Bellevue, we get the best of both worlds —  and the opportunity to stage our event outdoors in one of the most beautiful urban settings in the Pacific Northwest.”

Sarah Beauchamp