MIDWAY — Many visitors to the Francisco's Farm Arts Festival receive a ballot for AmericanStyle Magazine's Top 10 Art Fairs and Festivals poll.
"We ask people, 'If we're one of your favorites, please vote for us, and if we're not, tell us what we can do to get there," says volunteer Marcie Christensen.
Apparently, most people have been marking ballots because, in five years, the festival at Midway College has secured a regular spot on the poll.
Christensen describes the keys to that success as a combination of small-town Southern hospitality and cosmopolitan sophistication that made recruiting exhibitors a necessity only during the festival's early years.
This year, Christensen says, more than 250 artists applied. There are 156 exhibitors, according to the program.
And those exhibitors hail from 17 states, including Massachusetts, South Carolina and Nebraska.
The main attraction of the festival is the artists happy to sell you major pieces of their work or small items.
Christensen points to Midway artist Dwayne Cobb. He produces jewelry that sells for hundreds of dollars, but he also made $5 pewter key chains last year.
"He said he wants everybody to have a little art in their hands," Christensen says. "It's smart marketing because if they are reminded of the artist by something like a key chain, someday when they can afford something bigger, they'll come back."
Christensen has tried to make smart marketing another facet of the festival, doing a lot of it through a Web site, www.franciscosfarm.org, that boasts profiles of exhibiting artists and lots of other information about the event, all also available by regular e-mail updates.
In addition to the exhibitors, the festival presents a regular exhibition indoors at Midway College's Anne Hart Raymond Center. For the second year in a row, the show is The Artistic Wealth of Woodford County.
"We did that last year and found we had barely scratched the surface," Christensen said. Those represented include visual artists, writers, musicians, chefs and even a wine maker and distiller.
As the festival has grown, it has grown greener.
The focus of this year's effort is the elimination of disposable water bottles. All artists and volunteers will get sports water bottles and regular refills. Bluegrass PRIDE also will have rain barrels at the festival, and patrons will be able to paint them.
"Next year, our aim is to have a waste-free festival," Christensen says.
This year, Christensen wants to see whether the fest builds on its momentum.
She says the audience grew from 5,000 people in 2007 to 8,000 last year.
The key to maintaining the upward trajectory, she says, is continuing to put Midway's best foot forward.
"We had a volunteer orientation," Christensen says, "and we told them, you are responsible for the reputation of this festival, and Midway, and Kentucky. A lot of these artists haven't been to Kentucky before."
Once they come, she wants to make sure they come back.