"It's been a word-of-mouth marketing phenomenon since year one,” says Meg.
Last year an estimated 20,000 people withstood the blazing August heat and steamy humidity to enjoy a full day of tomatothemed art and family-friendly entertainment in the “heart” of East Nashville. The TAF is a neighborhood block party celebrating a fruit disguised as a vegetable, and is a uniquely East Nashville event. The tomato is the quintessential Southern summer food and a “uniter” of the fruits and vegetables because it is botanically a fruit, but considered a vegetable for culinary purposes. That makes it the perfect symbol for East Nashville, as reflected in the festival’s mission statement: “The Tomato – A uniter not a divider, bringing together fruits and vegetables.”
On Saturday, Aug. 14, the Five Points area once again will be transformed from the commercial center of East Nashville into a tomato celebration with several blocks of art, food vendors, contests, kids’ activities, and entertainment on several stages.
A frisky 7-year-old?
The Tomato Art Fest may be in its seventh year, but it didn’t begin with big ambitions.
Meg and Bret, who own Art & Invention Gallery on Woodland Street, started off modestly with the tomato as an August art show theme.
“We invited artists to share their imagination and creativity around the tomato and engage people in a playful and fun energetic day to beat the heat.”
The Tomato Fest has won the Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville contest in the “Best Festival” category for the past three years. That means TAF even outdid the Bonnaroo Festival in the voting. TAF has garnered plenty of national press as well, including mentions in magazines such as Southern Living, Family Circle and Epicurius.
In 2008, founders Meg and Bret won a peer-voted award from the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association for “East Nashvillian of the Year” in the business category. The award was for their efforts in creating and bringing the Tomato Art Fest to East Nashville. Meg and Bret were honored with a plaque and a cash prize, but more importantly by the accolades of their fellow neighborhood businesses. Meg remains humble however, deferring all the credit to the neighborhood.
“If it weren’t for East Nashville, this couldn’t happen; the people of this neighborhood are so willing to play,” she says. “The people of East Nashville are what make this festival unique and fun and colorful. It has helped bring the community together, and it helps the rest of Nashville see how wonderful East Nashville is.”
As the fest has grown in reputation and attendance, the tomato has increasingly become a symbol for East Nashville. This year, new covered bus stops were installed in the neighborhood with a design feature of tomato decals. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce also printed a marketing piece featuring neighborhood statistics, with the design element being juicy, red tomatoes. It’s true, the tomato is not only uniting East Nashville, but the rest of the city as well. Local commerce is also feeling the tomato love, during what is traditionally a slow time for business. The day of the Tomato Art Fest has become one of the biggest days of sales for many local restaurants, bars, artisans and entrepreneurs.