First-timer’s Guide to Panoply Arts Festival


First-timers Guide to Panoply Arts Blog Graphic


Special guest post from Lisa Bollinger of The Arts Council

My husband, 2-year-old son, two adorable dogs and I moved to Huntsville on a bright and sunny day the last weekend in April 2007.  Our moving truck was scheduled to arrive a few days later.  Instead of sitting on the floors of an empty house, we decided to check out an arts festival our realtor had mentioned to us.  We didn’t have a smartphone to look up any details, or even an internet connection in the house. How difficult could it be to find the Southeast’s largest outdoor arts festival? We decided that the festival was probably downtown and got in the car to see if we could find it.  Turns out, Panoply is very easy to find!


Lisa Bollinger with her son at Panoply in Huntsville, AL


I don’t remember a lot of specifics about my first Panoply experience, mostly due to being tired from driving seven hours earlier that day with a two year old and two dogs. I remember great entertainment and a lot of activities for our son. I also recall an immediate feeling of happiness about our decision to move to Huntsville. Panoply was filled with smiling, friendly faces. We were home.

A lot has happened since then. That empty house is now filled with our things (the truck did arrive), a 10-year-old boy and his seven-year-old younger brother. In 2013, I began working at The Arts Council. I am now the Panoply Interactives and World Programs Manager.


Lisa Bollinger's son at Panoply in Huntsville, Alabama via

When The Arts Council was asked to write A First-Timers Guide to Panoply, it seemed fitting that I write this guide. There probably aren’t very many people with a story like mine – I had the ultimate first timer experience in 2007, and now I’m one of the Panoply festival planners.

If this year will be your first year at Panoply, welcome to the festival! I promise you will have a wonderful time with us at Big Spring International Park. There is no denying that it is a very large festival, so here are a few first timer tips to help you.


Buy your tickets in advance

The first thing I suggest is that you buy your tickets in advance. You can do this online by clicking here. Tickets are $7.50 in advance. If you wait they will be $10 at the gate.  When you buy your ticket in advance, you will get through the line faster and you also save some money that you can use toward some good food or drinks in the park.


Takeaway (2)Remember that kids 12 and under are always FREE!  Tickets are good for any single day so you don’t have to know ahead of time which day or days you plan to attend.



Pack your stuff

There are a few things you should bring with you. I’m going to sound a little crazy, but bring sunscreen and a poncho. Yes, you may need both. We admit that the weather is unpredictable at the end of April, so be prepared for anything. Personally, I prefer a poncho or raincoat over an umbrella, because it’s easier to move around the people in the park. If you really don’t want to bring raingear, you can always buy a poncho at one of our Panoply Stores.


Takeaway (2)

Another very important thing to remember is that Panoply has festival seating. This means you need to bring your own chairs or blankets for the stage areas. We have five stages, so bring something that is easy to carry.



Grab a Festival Guide

Make sure you grab a Panoply Festival Guide as soon as you get through the gate. This guide has a map of the park, including a list of all performances, artists at Art Marketplace (85 of them!), food vendors and Interactives. It is small enough to fold and fit into a pocket, but large enough to read easily.


Panoply with Children

If you are bringing your children to Panoply, you are going to have a BLAST, and they will too! There are so many great interactives at Panoply that are FREE for everybody. You are going collect a lot of works of art from your children (and the young at heart).


Takeaway (2)

I recommend that you bring a bag to carry these masterpieces or stop by one of our Panoply Stores and buy a Panoply souvenir bag for $3.00. Remember that interactive activities aren’t just for kids – you can do them too!



Our Panoply volunteers will put a wristband on each child with your cell phone number on the INSIDE. Don’t forget your cell phone and make sure it’s charged.  Take a picture of your children so you can remember what they are wearing. If you and your child are separated, be sure to turn the phone ON in case a designated Panoply team member is trying to call you.


Takeaway (2)

If you can’t find your child, go to the Lost Kids Tent just across from the Info Booth near the gazebo along the pond for assistance or find anybody in an orange shirt with a radio.



Asking for Help

If you have questions while you are walking around Panoply you can always ask somebody in an orange shirt to help you. Each year we depend on over 100 Panoply volunteer chairpersons to help make Panoply happen. We wear bright colored shirts on purpose, so you can easily identify somebody to answer your questions.


Takeaway (2)

The shirt color for 2015 is orange. You can also stop by the Information Booth located along the pond near the gazebo if you have any questions.



Enjoy the Festival!

My best advice for first timers is to just take your time and walk around and enjoy everything. There is nothing more special than seeing Big Spring International Park transformed into this fantastic arts festival. Don’t forget that Friday and Saturday evenings end with a fireworks show!


If somebody told me on that first day in 2007 that I would one day be part of the Panoply team, I’m not sure I would have believed it. Now that I’m here I can’t imagine not being a part of Panoply. I hope that your first time at Panoply means as much to you as my first time meant to me. Make it a great one!


Lisa Bollinger (in the hat) with The Arts Council Team Members at the Panoply 2015 news conference

Lisa Bollinger (in the hat) with The Arts Council Team Members at the Panoply 2015 news conference




Special guest post from Lisa Bollinger of The Arts Council

  • tina says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I’ve come now for 5 or 6 years and I get just as excited as my first time. The fireworks are amazing. Don’t miss them! Great community event.

    • Jessica Carlton says:

      Hi Tina,

      We love this post from Lisa and The Arts Council, and we’re very excited about Panoply 2015! Thanks for reading!


  • Judy ryals says:

    What great tips for bringing our grandkids with us!

  • Silvia says:

    I real delighted to find this internet site on bing, just what
    I was searching for 😀 as well bookmarked.

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