Gloucester City arts and heritage festival is passion of local woman

Mary Lou Adams , organizer of the annual Gloucester City Riverfront Music/Arts Festival, with one of her own artworks.

When she was voted out as president of the Gloucester City historical society nearly a decade ago, Mary Lou Adams felt certain that her role presenting this blue-collar Camden County town in a more cultural light was far from over.

“I just knew I had to keep going because I didn’t want to give up showing the world what a great place this really is — how much history and culture is really here,” said Adams, 69, a retired human services worker.

Adams says she is fascinated with the idea that this little burg, which has existed upon a marshy bank of the Delaware River since the 1600s — and now sits in the towering shadow cast by the Walt Whitman Bridge — was where Betsy Ross eloped to marry her love, a local upholsterer, against the wishes of her Quaker parents, and where the poet for whom the omnipresent bridge is named would come to dine on shad cooked, in a locally famous style, upon a wooden plank.

The place once had the world’s largest Ferris wheel, and John Philip Sousa would arrive to conduct rousing marches in Proprietors Park.

So, Adams, with the permission of city officials, quickly organized the Gloucester City Cultural Arts and Heritage Society, and decided to create the annual Riverfront Music/Art Festival. The first was held in 2009 in Proprietors Park and featured a handful of bands and a meager 20 vendors selling artwork and other handmade items.

Despite having been on the verge of unraveling a few times — the grassroots effort is without corporate sponsorship and is overseen on a strictly volunteer basis by Adams and a small committee — the ninth annual Riverfront Music/Arts Festival will take place this year.  Scheduled for Sept. 30 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the festival will include about 70 booths featuring fine art and photography.  There will be scheduled poetry readings, music provided by at least five bands or local musicians, and a children’s art corner.

Three one-hour tours of the Delaware River — at 10:30 a.m., noon, and 1:30 p.m. — will be offered by Gloucester City Sails aboard the schooner Northwind.  Tickets will be $20 per person.

Adams said she is proud of the festival’s artistic lineup, including seven artists from Prindiville Moher, a Princeton-based nonprofit gallery that seeks to enrich the careers of emerging artists; photographic artist Barrie Stark from Blou’s Art; Reta Sweeney, a professional watercolorist and oil painter; and mixed media artist Bernard Dela Cruz of Sewell. Adams, who paints mostly in acrylics, will also show her work.

“This festival brings joy to people in the form of creativity, for both the artists and those who attend the show,” Adams said.

Jack Lipsett, Gloucester City’s municipal administrator, agreed.

“I think what this festival ultimately does is showcase Gloucester City and what we have to offer,” Lipsett said. “It’s such a positive thing for our town and our businesses here, so we’re fully behind this festival and the yeoman’s task Mary Lou has done of putting it together every year.”

More information about the event may be obtained by calling 856-456-1462 or via email at gcarts2u@yahoo.com.