The History of Tulsa International Mayfest
In 1972, the Junior League of Tulsa was planning the celebration of their upcoming 50th Anniversary. The League wanted to celebrate by making a gift to the city. After learning of the coinciding anniversaries of the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Philharmonic Society, the Junior League approached these groups with the idea of co-sponsoring an arts festival. The purpose was to produce an arts festival which would bring the performing and visual arts to the people of northeastern Oklahoma on May 18-20, 1973, on the Civic Center Plaza and to commemorate the City of Tulsa’s 75th Anniversary, the Junior League of Tulsa’s 50th Anniversary, and the Tulsa Philharmonic Society’s 25th Anniversary, and was known as Jubilee ‘73.
In 1974, the Junior League turned over production of the festival to Downtown Tulsa Unlimited (DTU) and the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa. The organizations shared the festival management responsibilities with the help of hundreds of volunteers and local arts organizations.
In 1978, the festival came to be known as “Mayfest”. As Downtown Tulsa Unlimited and the Arts & Humanities Council continued partnership in the production of the festival, the city as well as the festival continued to grow. With the closing of Main Street and opening of the Main Mall and Williams Center Green, the festival was allowed to expand its visual and performing arts staging areas and invite artists and craftsmen to display their work in the new areas. A jurying process was introduced to enhance the quality of the visual arts displayed at the festival.
The International Music Competition was added to the list of attractions for Mayfest ’80. A star-studded lineup of performers from throughout the U.S. and seven other countries helped push attendance over the quarter million mark.
A new six-day festival was introduced at Mayfest ’85, running Tuesday through Sunday. One hundred fifty artists and craftsmen were in attendance with their original handcrafted work. Mayfest ‘87 brought a five day festival.
Mayfest ’91 moved to the Brady Arts & Entertainment District and after two years, moved back to the Downtown Main Mall venue. Mayfest ‘92 was a ten day festival.
With DTU’s dissolution in June 2009, Mayfest is now an independent event produced in cooperation with the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa and remains a four-day festival, as was instituted in 1993. 2014 marks our 42nd annual event.