The Ava Gardner Museum hosts an annual festival in honor of the legendary actress, fashion icon, and humanitarian Ava Gardner, a North Carolina native who grew up just 7-miles east of Smithfield, NC. This year’s festival, scheduled for October 7-9, kicks off Ava’s 100th Centennial Celebration and will include a multitude of exciting events, as the museum unveils new exhibits, conducts heritage tours, hosts film screenings, and more.
Smithfield is located just off I-95, Exit 95 only four and a half hours from the DC area. It’s a perfect long weekend getaway or a great stop-over on your way further south. The Ava Gardner Museum, where most of the festival activities are taking place, is located in Downtown Smithfield, at 325 E. Market Street. Smithfield is situated along the Neuse River, with a thriving downtown – new retail, restaurants, events, historic attractions, outlet shopping, and recreational activities abound.
One of the can’t-miss events at this year’s festival is the musical experience dedicated to Ava kicking-off the festival weekend on October 7th!
Billed as “A Musical Tribute to Ava Gardner”, concert-goers will experience a celebration of Ava’s life through music! Ava truly loved music from the big band sounds of her second husband, Artie Shaw, to the torch songs that Frank Sinatra was so famous for singing following their breakup. Enjoy this musical tribute to Ava with the NC Revelers Orchestra from Raleigh and featuring guest performers, Broadway actor and singer John Arthur Greene, and opera and jazz singer Angelique Alexander. This collaboration also includes Jonathan Levin, founder of The Clayton Piano Festival, bringing us a medley of Ava’s movie songs and much more.
Beginning at 6:30pm, the Clayton Cultural Arts Foundation will host a cash bar prior to the concert in the lobby of The Clayton Center, and guests may also enjoy a slice of Ava’s Birthday Cake and light refreshments provided by the Ava Gardner Museum. Premium reserved seats will be $45 plus fees/taxes and general seating will be $30 plus fees/taxes. Tickets are only available through The Clayton Center box office, online here.
The festival continues through Sunday in Smithfield, and the following is a snapshot of the schedule:
Friday, October 7
9am – 5pm Museum Opens with the Unveiling of New Exhibits
The museum board has many special tributes, events, and exhibits planned throughout the Ava 100th Centennial Celebration and we hope you will return again and again. Admission tickets are $12 per person and available to buy online in advance.
Saturday, October 8
9am – 5pm Exhibits, Movies, Heritage Tours and More
The Museum staff will have new exhibits showcasing recent acquisitions and never-before-seen artifacts on loan from collectors, and additional events on Saturday include heritage tours, wine and whiskey tastings by Seven Jars Distillery, art vendors and sidewalk sales on Third Street, and film screenings at the Smithfield Cinemas. The dedication of the Ava Gardner Mural and Rose Garden will be held Saturday morning at 10am, to share the story behind the project and thank all those that contributed to its success.
Heritage Tours will be available beginning at 11am through 3pm with a tour guide to the Brogden Community where Ava was born and raised, just 7 miles east of Smithfield. Other points of interest will be featured in Smithfield, and the group will visit Ava’s grave site, Sunset Memorial Park.
5pm Film Screening of The Killers
Films will be screened at the Smithfield Cinemas located at 175 S. Equity Drive near Carolina Premium Outlets. Watch Ava’s breakout role as Kitty Collins, in a newly mastered 4K version of The Killers (1946).
7:30pm Film Screening of Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Cohen films released the Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) 4K restoration in 2020, and two years later the North Carolina premiere will be during the Ava Gardner Festival.
Sunday, October 9
11am-5pm Museum Opens with extended hours
Return on Sunday to continue to enjoy the new exhibits celebrating Ava 100th Birthday! Special t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other gift shop items will be available all weekend for purchase in the museum, as well as online.
1:30pm Film Screening of The Barefoot Contessa
Visitors will enjoy another iconic Ava film, The Barefoot Contessa (1954) on the big screen at Smithfield Cinemas, as the festival concludes.
For more information, and to purchase tickets for the various events happening throughout the weekend, visit here.
Visitors to the Ava Gardner Festival will find a special room rate being offered at select area hotels (highlighted at the bottom of the festival homepage); nearby local shops and restaurants are also planning to celebrate the weekend with special offers. Make a long weekend of it and come celebrate Ava’s 100th in her hometown!
As the festival concludes, the museum will continue the centennial celebration throughout 2023 with special programming and virtual offerings designed to honor Ava’s many contributions to film, fashion, and philanthropy. So, even if you can’t make it to the Ava Gardner Festival, visitors to the museum throughout the next year will be able to see special exhibits and items relating to Ava’s 100th celebration. There will also be more unique events to come!
For more information, visit https://www.johnstoncountync.org/ava-gardner/ava-100.
The Ava Gardner Festival sponsors make this all possible, and to support the museum’s activities, click this link. The Board of Directors extends a special thanks to the following sponsors: First Citizens Bank, Winston-Salem Foundation, Joy W. Pope Memorial Grant, Johnston County Arts Council, Johnston County Community Foundation, Piedmont Pump & Tank, LLC, The Clayton Center, Smithfield Cinemas, Carroll Pharmacy, United Community Bank, Rebecca Bailey, Interstate Outdoor, Town of Smithfield, Johnston County Visitors Bureau and the Ava Gardner Trust.