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A Brief History of the Bigfork
Festival of the Arts
It was May of 1978 when the idea of a Bigfork Festival of the Arts was first proposed. As so often happens in Bigfork, it started with a conversation on Electric Ave. between members of the community. In this case, George and Bigfork Festival of the Arts community crowdElna Darrow, Jim Manley, Gerald and Sally Askevold, Don Thomson, David Shaner and Jeff Wilson were discussing how nice it would be to have a gathering of some kind during the summer season. From that original group came the energy to turn the idea into a reality. Over the years hundreds of dedicated volunteers have continued to expand and enhance the festival, making it an established summer tradition for people from all over Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

Jewelry booth at Bigfork Festival of the Arts

It was decided by this group that an arts festival would be a great event for Bigfork and that the first weekend in August would be a good time to hold such an event.

It was also decided that the first beneficiary of the Festival would be the building fund for the Bigfork Summer Playhouse.


David Shaner was a member of the Montana Arts Council at the time and knew they had small amounts of grant money available for startup projects.

He applied for and got a few hundred dollars to pay Jim Manley a small stipend to do most of the organizing and to pay for some advertising and a banner and such.


The first festival was held on the first weekend in August of 1978. It was a resounding success despite the committee's inexperience. The feedback from the community was very positive and the group agreed that it should become an annual event. Elna Darrow served as festival chair for several years.

Face painting at Bigfork Festival of the Arts

The Summer Playhouse building fund became the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts Foundation and the money raised by the festival helped fund the building of the new Performing Arts Center in the 1980's and establish a permanent trust fund for the maintenance of the building.

In 1995, Larry Jochim, the BCPA Foundation president, approached the Bigfork Retail Merchants Association, a sub committee of the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce and asked if they would be interested in becoming the beneficiary and taking over the job of organizing and holding the festival.


After a short period of deliberation, the BRMA decided the funds generated by the festival would empower the group to advertise events, sponsor community programs and fund a high school scholarship program. Family at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts

Bigfork Festival of the Arts handicrafts

In 2005, a committee of the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce took over leadership of the event with proceeds being earmarked for advertising/marketing Bigfork.

Over the years, the festival has grown steadily to its current size. In 2010, there were more than 140 booths representing a wide variety of arts and crafts by nationally and internationally recognized artists and craftsmen. Festival attendance is estimated to be more than 6,000.


Now in its 39th year, the Festival fills the streets of downtown Bigfork on the first full weekend in August. Attractions include arts and crafts in all types of media, a wide variety of music and entertainment, a mouth watering assortment of food vendors and a delightful family atmosphere. There is something for people of all ages and interests at the Bigfork Festival of the Arts.

The festival has grown to its current size because of the dedicated work of a core group of volunteers and a large contingent of community members that volunteer for work details during the festival weekend. It takes more than 50 volunteers helping with tasks such as traffic control, trouble shooting, booth sitting, setup and tear-down, publicity, judging and office work to make the festival run smoothly.

Bigfork Festival of the Arts surfboard

The Bigfork Festival of the Arts is one of the oldest art festivals in Montana. The established traditions of quality and hospitality make it one of the most popular festivals in the Northwest.

For additional information, call the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce at 406-837-5888.