In 1972, local art patrons and community minded individuals, Bill Ford, Gus Staub, and Jim Westbrook decided Tupelo needed a connection to artists and original art. They had grown tired of the cliche reproduction market and unimaginative “sofa art,” and set out to establish a community wide appreciation for the fine arts and the unique individuals that create that art. It was their intent to provide an annual arts festival where artists could come and interact with their patrons and the community as a whole could view a wide variety of artists, media, and engage in discussions about that art work. This was the motivation and beginnings of the Gumtree Arts Festival.
In the beginning, Ford, Westbrook, and Staub approached numerous festivals and spent countless hours establishing an artist mailing list. Over 3000 invitations to artists were mailed to artists around the country. The first few festivals were modest in stature, but had the makings of a tried and true Tupelo tradition. The work in the seventies was very avant garde as reflective of the art scene of the time. Bill Ford and Jim Westbrook went on to manage the festival for over 15 years together until Ford moved in the late 80’s. Jim Westbrook carried on the festival tradition for another 10 years along with the dedicated staff of volunteers who came back year after year. These volunteers, many of which are still very active in the festival today, include: Carol Jean Vogee, Jean Francis Cooper, Lee Bryson, Barbara Fleishacker, John Blakey, Richard McCarty, and Bubba Nash. Jim Westbrook passed the festival “torch” to Tina Lutz when she moved to Tupelo and took on the role of Executive Director of Gumtree Museum of Art. Tina along with a host of volunteers continued to grow the festival for another 16 years.