As Season Ends, Festivals Tackle Internal Affairs

Exhibitor Jason Dowd demonstrating his talents during the Festival of Arts’ closing weeks.

With the art festivals wrapping up this weekend for another summer, festival exhibitors and administrators this week turned to housekeeping matters that surfaced to varying degrees during the season.

Sawdust Festival artists re-elected incumbent Gavin Heath and two newcomers Mike Kelly and Michael Thorstensen on Tuesday to their nine-member board.

The trio joins board members Rachel Goberman, Jay Grant, Marla Burns, Dennis Junka, Tracey Moscaritolo and Cindy Stalnaker. Sawdust board members serve a maximum of two, three-year terms, said Sawdust spokeswoman Cynthia Fung.

At a meeting preceding a similar Festival of Arts board election, incumbents Tom Lamb, Anita Mangels and Pat Kollenda, who are seeking re-election, made presentations alongside board challenger Jack Veth, a semi-retired lawyer.

About 60 Festival artists attended the meeting and some took the opportunity to critique festival operations. Some artists are also Festival members and thus eligible to vote in the upcoming election. Painter and 13-year exhibitor Kathy Jones served as moderator.

High among the artists’ concerns was their perceived marginalization by the popularity of Festival promoted entertainment and crowds of picnickers awaiting the “Pageant of the Masters” production.

While visitors had an easier time finding tables and chairs this year, some artists chafed at attention diverted from their wares and the volume of performances, which interfered with conversing with potential customers. “In the past there have been art displays in the lawn area, which one could view from nearby benches. Now artists feel pushed back into their booth by picnickers who don’t look at anything, let alone buy,” said painter David Milton, a 25-year exhibitor.

Also of concern is a recent change in the jurying process, which each year winnows 300 artists vying to fill 140 booth openings, Milton said. The change involves the so-called “exhibition card” or “free card” system, hotly debated among artists.

Incoming artists are evaluated by six jurors, based on a 100-point system. Scores under 66 points flunk. The “exhibition card” system allows entry to artists who don’t meet the point threshold if they have exhibited for 10 continuous years. Previously, this “free pass” for a season was granted after five years.

Some board members, including Lamb, support the change as a fair way to make room for new artists. “It’s our responsibility to see that we have an attractive show that people want to see. If too many existing artists are not juried out when they should be, it reduces opportunities for new artists,” said Fred Sattler, the Festival president, who attended the forum.

Meanwhile, Lamb noted that the Festival purchased a new sound system that is controlled by a sound engineer and a soundboard rather than by performing bands. He said the issue of balance between presenting enticing programming and not taking the spotlight off artists is being worked on for next summer.

As for a lack of transparency regarding the jurying system, Lamb said, “artists just don’t listen.” He calls the “exhibition card system” a leftover from another era but respects its tradition as humane. “Today we are more interested in awarding sabbaticals to help refresh artists’ creativity rather than the card system,” he said. Exhibitors in good standing for seven years, may take a sabbatical without losing their place.

Candidates expressed concerns about education and scholarships, expansion and improvement of the public grounds and ways to keep enticing crowds for yet another 80 years.

“I actually wanted to run for the festival board 10 years ago but did not have the time. Now that I am semi-retired, I want to give back to the community,” Veth said.

Share this:
View Our User Comment Policy


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here