HISTORY OF THE FESTIVAL
WHAT IS THE PECAN STREET FESTIVAL?
The Pecan Street Festival is a free two-day arts festival presented by The Pecan Street Association; and is held twice yearly in downtown Austin’s Sixth Street Historic District. Taking place the first Saturday & Sunday in May and the third Saturday & Sunday in September, the juried festival attracts hundreds of local and national artisans offering original handcrafted creations in a variety of mediums, from metal, wood, fiber, clay, leather, glass and stone to repurposed materials of all kinds.
Like Austin itself, Pecan Street Festival attendees are diverse. Some come to buy art, others come for the food or the music, but they all come to take part in a tradition that is 100% Austin and has been known for more than four decades as a great way to spend a weekend. The festival has been managed by Special Events Live since 2006.
Nearly 50 of Austin’s top musical acts, from up-and-comers to renowned veterans, perform on three stages, located on Trinity, Neches and Red River streets. Thirty food vendors located throughout the festival offer both indulgent and healthy options from crepes, funnel cakes and regional cuisine, to smoothies and fresh squeezed lemonade. Kid-friendly activities include rides, a petting zoo, face-painting, interactive workshops, street magicians and more.
The event is well-attended by people from all over Austin and Central Texas, generating an economic impact of over $40 million. It is the largest arts festival in Texas, and one of the largest arts and music festivals in the nation!
WHY IT IS CALLED “PECAN STREET FESTIVAL”?:
When Edwin Waller designed Austin’s downtown street grid, he named the north/south streets after Texas rivers and recommended numeric designations for the east/west streets. Instead, they were named after trees. That decision was later reversed, and they were renamed with numbers. Though Pecan Street became Sixth Street, the festival honors its original name.
The Pecan Street Festival takes place in the Sixth Street Historic District between Brazos Street and Interstate 35 in the heart of Austin’s business and live entertainment district — the very stretch that contributed the city’s designation as the Live Music Capital of the World. Lined with many of Austin’s oldest and most storied structures, some of which date from the 1800s, Sixth Street is populated with entertainment venues, art galleries, cafes, restaurants and retailers. The area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
WHAT IS THE PECAN STREET ASSOCIATION?
The Pecan Street Association (“PSA”) is a not-for-profit 501 (C)-4 group of volunteer business owners, professionals, artists and concerned citizens dedicated to advancing and preserving the integrity of the important, historic and unique area known as the Sixth Street Historic District. In order to meet these goals, proceeds from the activities of PSA, mainly the Pecan Street Festival, include beautification, education and other promotional activities. In addition, PSA supports the community through financial contributions to charities serving the Austin region.
During the 1960s and ’70s, downtown was scarcely populated, with abandoned buildings scattered about. A pioneering group of Austinites known as the Old Pecan Street Association was instrumental in reclaiming the downtown space and starting renovation of the old buildings, along with educating on its rich history prior to its downturn.
“The idea was to preserve the historical appeal of the street, while revitalizing the downtown area,” said Shannon Sedwick, vice president of the Pecan Street Association. The association wanted to uphold a sense of the buildings’ past and present, she said.
The association needed adequate funding for restoration costs and bringing a street fair to life was a solution to their problems. In 1978, the Pecan Street Festival was started and included local food and art vendors along with bands from the surrounding area, establishing a community event for cultural preservation and creativity. Due to the festival’s positive turnout, the celebration became a biannual spring and fall tradition, honoring 6th Street’s original name, Pecan Street.
PSA has always placed importance on free admission to the festival so that it is open to the Austin community and surrounding areas. The City of Austin joined in partnership with PSA to help offset a portion of the festival expenses.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY:
The Pecan Street Association supports the Austin community by donating festival proceeds to several local nonprofit groups and municipal-aid organizations each year, often forming partnerships to further charitable efforts. Beneficiaries have included Mobiles Loaves & Fishes, the East Austin Conservancy/Art Conservancy, Austin Boxer Rescue, Austin Pets Alive, The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Austin Community Foundation, Cancer Connection, Habitat for Humanity, Caritas of Austin, Bowie High School Lacrosse, Interfaith Action of Central Texas, Capital Area Food Bank, The Knights of Columbus, Texas Green Network, Austin Parks and Recreation (including the Carver Museum & Cultural Center and the Mexican American Cultural Center), Austin Blues Society, YMCA’s Fantastic Magic Camp, The Climate Reality Project, Art from the Heart, Undoing Racism-Austin, Coats 4 Kids, R.O.S.E.S. (Reaching Out Supporting Every Sister), National Hispanic Institute, Dance Another World, Soul Tree Collective, Spectrum Theater Company, The Greater East Austin Youth Association, the Austin Community Steelband and many others. A fuller list can be found here.