Virtual Tomatoes by Kimberly Klein

Updated: Aug 14, 2020


Held every year at the historic Five Points in East Nashville, usually during the second weekend of every August, the Tomato Art Fest is a special event for the Nashville community. It is completely free to enter and costumes are more than encouraged – the tomato-y, the better!

The festival was established by Bret and Meg McFadyen back in 2004 when they held an art show that exclusively honored the tomato at the East Nashville Art and Invention Gallery, which the couple had owned. They also added in some events to promote the show and, hence, from this modest setting, the Tomato Art Fest as we know it was born. Over the years, it has gained traction to become a popular annual affair.

Meg and Bret met as art majors on the set for the Jim Varney movie, Ernest Scared Stupid. The McFadyens had purchased the 1108 Woodland St. property in May of 2000 in hopes of turning it into a warehouse and workshop for assembling music and video sets. Back when it all began, East Nashville’s Five Points was hardly the economic hotspot it is today. It wasn’t until Slowly Shirley’s became the slow bar in that part of town that Five Points would come to be considered a “destination”.

It was truly Meg’s idea that the Tomato Art Festival came into existence, and its attendance grows and grows with each passing year, with an estimated 60, 000 people coming out to celebrate the fruit/vegetable in 2018 alone.

This year was a little different than the others before, however, due to the quarantine that has resulted from the Covid-19 pandemic. All the festival’s vendors were relegated to the internet in a continued effort to promote social distancing. And many of the activities, except for a Cornhole tournament, were converted into online experiences. One of the sole events that was still going on at the Woodland Street location was the art show, in which contestants could paint, sculpt or otherwise create art pieces featuring and dedicated to the titular tomato. The art could be sold for whatever price the artist stuck on their work, with all proceeds going to tornado relief of those parts of East Nashville still suffering from the touchdowns back in March. A kid’s art contest was also held in the same building, as was a Bloody Mary contest. Ribbons were awarded to those who won in categories such as Most Inventive or Most Festival Spirit.

In place of the normal Push, Pull, and Wear Parade that would noticeably feature crazy tomato-themed floats put together by local organizations and creative costumes, was the aptly renamed Porch Parade. Contestants could decorate their porches with tomato-themed paraphernalia and bikers, walkers, and drivers could mosey at their leisure along the regular parade route to view the spectacles. Participants were also encouraged to enter a home decorating contest to win a cash prize. The folks who run the Good Neighbor Festivals, the event managers who market Tomato Art Fest every year, did their best to keep the air of tradition alive against the hard times we as a nation and the world face.

I, as an attendee who tries her best to visit the Tomato Art Fest every year, was extremely happy that the folks at Good Neighbor Festivals felt it was safe to at least put on the art show. I even entered one of my own paintings into the contest and, to my surprise, it sold. While that feeling of triumph is nice, it doesn’t quite replace the excitement and rush of dodging the crowds in the summer heat to peruse the booths selling their tomato-related wares or speed-walking with hundreds of others across the huge painted tomato right in the middle of the Four Points. It will be so good to have the thrill of just getting ready to go to a festival, any festival again. It shocked me to learn that Bret and Meg McFadyen have sold their rights to Art and Invention Gallery a couple of years ago due to retirement and I feel it is a real testament to the hard workers at Good Neighbor Festivals that Tomato Art Fest still thrived after the change of hands. The slogan for at least this year is, “Uniter, Not A Divider,” and it really shows in the effort they employed to still put a smile on everyone’s face.

The large warehouse at 1108 Woodland St. has been under reconstruction for over a year, but behind are a small number of littler warehouses for small shop owners to set up their businesses called the Idea Hatchery. This was a pet project of Bret’s that still sits on a piece of land peeled off from the Gallery, using the principle of tending to tomatoes in a special bed before transplanting. Many of these owners have the McFadyen’s to thank for their support, friendship, and trust to get their ideas off the ground and East Nashville is a stronger community for the things this couple have accomplished over the years. Christian Paro, a real estate investor and an East-Nashville based entrepreneur, will continue the operations at the Hatchery so that the goodwill of the McFadyens will resonate for long after.

“It started off as a small art show based on the beauty of tomatoes and turned into something no one expected,” says Alexis Clark in her article at tennessean.com.

Quite a Uniter, indeed.


Citations:

Clark, Alexis. “It's a Veggie, It's a Fruit, and It's Free: The Annual Tomato Art Festival.” The Tennessean, Nashville Tennessean, 1 Aug. 2019, www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/2019/08/01/annual-east-nashville-tomato-art-festival-16-annual-event/1869874001/.

Delworth, Dana, et al. “Citizens, Kind.” The East Nashvillian, 12 Aug. 2019, www.theeastnashvillian.com/citizens-kind/.

Tomato Art Fest, www.tomatoartfest.com/.

“Tomato Art Fest.” Visit Nashville TN, 5 Aug. 2019, www.visitmusiccity.com/media/press-release/2019/tomato-art-fest#:~:text=HISTORY%3A,events%20to%20promote%20the%20show.

“Tomato Fest Founders Sell Property for $2.5M.” Nashville Post, 25 June 2019, www.nashvillepost.com/business/development/commercial-real-estate/article/21074865/tomato-fest-founders-sell-property-for-25m.


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