The 40th anniversary of the Sumner Arts Festival may be its most important yet, for more reasons than one.
The festival is again in limbo, after the Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce rebranded the event last year but declined to host it again, citing lost revenue and a shift in Chamber priorities.
Planning and organizing of the Arts Festival has now been handed over to the Sumner Downtown Association (SDA), with oversight from the city of Sumner and input from the Sumner Arts Commission.
SDA director Laurie Miller said that her group was approached to host the Arts Festival by the arts commission just last month and they are hitting the ground running.
The 2013 Sumner Arts Festival is scheduled for Aug. 2-4 and will feature vendor booths down Main Street, live music and, of course, art.
“What I’ve learned is, never stray away from grassroots,” said Miller.
A big change to this year’s event includes featuring fine art, versus arts and crafts.
Crafters shouldn’t worry, said Miller. Rhubarb Days, another SDA event scheduled for July 13 and 14, will feature space for craft vendors.
The Arts Commission will jury Arts Festival submissions, and Miller has already put out a call for artist submissions on Patch.
The Arts Festival will also incorporate a wine garden and jazz music into the three-day event.
“We’re talking to some well-known jazz artists,” said Miller. “Our main focus right now is finding a high-end sponsor.”
So, what went wrong at last year’s event?
Bottom line--it was just too hot last year, said Puyallup-Sumner Chamber of Commerce executive director Shelly Sclumpf.
“The heat made everyone go the lakes. For the people who went and looked forward to it, they said they loved it, but we just didn’t have enough foot traffic,” said Sclumpf.
The Chamber also put a lot of effort into last year’s festival with little return—the event cost about $20,000 but less than $8,000 was raised overall.
After over 10 years of hosting Wine Walks in Sumner, Sclumpf said she figured the microbrew garden at last year’s Arts Festival would have more than compensated for the festival cost, but the heat kept the beer drinkers at bay, leading to less revenue and return for the Chamber.
During this year’s Chamber strategic planning retreat, the board decided to stop funding all community events, including the Arts Festival.
“It was a hard decision for everyone,” said Sclumpf. “While everyone loved doing it and loved being in Sumner, we all admitted that, at the end of the day, unless we have the resources to put toward events, it just wasn’t feasible.”
This year, the Chamber is refocusing its efforts on supporting its members and promoting small business, she said.
“There are four businesses a month that are closing in Puyallup. We had to ask ourselves, what is the main purpose of this chamber?” said Schlumpf. “We decided our main focus now should be business advocacy, government and military affairs, and economic development.”
Sclumpf maintains there is substantial value in events, but sees the Chamber as more of a booth sponsor, rather than the host.
But, she’s hopeful that, as the business community gets stronger and more vibrant, those events will again be on the Chamber’s plate and beneficial to its members.
“I see us participating in parades and things like that again further down the road,” said Sclumpf. “But the main reason we would participate needs to be to promote our businesses.”
Back over in Sumner, Miller hopes the SDA can adopt the Arts Festival as a permanent event and hopes that between that and Rhubarb Days, all of Sumner's interests and groups will be represented, while promoting the downtown core.
“There seems to be a perception that SDA says they will do things but never completes them. I assure you, that has not been the case in the last year,” said Miller. “We haven’t underproduced—we’ve outdone ourselves. My instinct is we’ll show everyone we are very capable of running the event and that the city will feel secure with turning it over to us 100 percent next year, without any stipulations.”
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