It is with great sadness I bring news of the sudden death of the decades-old Brandywine Arts Festival in Wilmington, Delaware this week. --And, no, it WASN'T a victim of the economy ! (I don't think the butler did it, either.)
The show's demise was "sudden" in the sense that it was still a "go" two weeks ago. Organizers just didn't know "where" it would be happening. Sometime between Saturday and now, the show has been cancelled.
This week's show would have been the 49th annual occurrence of this large, family-oriented festival held in a State park along the Brandywine River. The show often attracted upwards of 20,000 people. Crafters have long considered this a good and profitable event. It was one of The Big Guy's mainstays for a number of years in the early 80s.
I was a bit shocked to see a news article on Saturday (9/5) stating the organizers had secured a location and would be obtaining permits this week. Whoa ! That left 4 business days to get the paperwork done and publicize the new site. What was happening?
It seems the organizer owes the State of Delaware (not the City of Wilmington) some money from last year's event. Sources put that figure somewhere between $6,000 and $8,500 for permits, police coverage, DPW and other related expenses. I can only assume they attempted to collect that money throughout the year and, as a result of the outstanding debt, withheld the necessary permits and use of the State-owned park for this year's event.
Apparently, the organizer then began a search for a new location and announced on their website in June that the festival would now be taking place at St. Anthony in the Hills in Avondale, Pennsylvania. However, no contract was signed with St. Anthony's. Permits were not in hand, proof of insurance was not forthcoming and police permits were not applied for. St. Anthony's refused to allow the event to take place on their property. Remember, there was never a signed agreement. The organizer never provided the required paperwork. She did, however, list the new location on the festival's website.
Last weekend, one week before the event, the organizer announced the event would now be held at the old Walker Farm in Hockessin, Delaware. Seems the site's owners, a development firm, wanted to help and had offered the new location. As of 9/5, the festival had not applied for permits from the County (with only 4 business days to go) but DID post the new site on their website.
One has to wonder how the general public (the potential customers) would find their way to the event. How much publicity could be obtained in less than a week?
So, where's that leave the artists and craftspeople?
Got a paddle ?
A little digging has revealed there are over 150 exhibitors who have paid their money and planned to sell there this weekend. Communication from the organizer has been poor. In August, some exhibitors were advised of a location change and were told the show had moved to St. Anthony in the Hills in Avondale, Pennsylvania. (Uh, oh. Warning flag !!!)
Let's start by saying this is NOT a non-profit organization putting this show together. This is NOT a cheap show. Spaces go for $300-$350 for a 10'x10' . A number of folks rent double spaces. Let's also note that the organizer had already collected somewhere in the neighborhood of $45,000 in space fees and at least $300 in jurying fees.
Communication has been poor, most recently, non-existent. The organizer claims she has had trouble with her e-mail account but has answered as many calls as possible. Crafters have stated the voice mail box has remained "full" and will not accept new messages.
Crafters were never advised of a possible location change when they applied for the show. Site changes can kill an established show and most experienced exhibitors approach site changes like new first-time events. Bear in mind, neither of the "new" locations were right-around-the-corner from the original site. At the most recent site in Hockessin, there is limited parking and the 14-acre property is located on a narrow 2-lane road. Local officials there had concerns about traffic volume and related matters. Again, remember, we're talking one week before the event!
The organizer claims all of these problems came about as a result of the State Police cancelling last year's rain or shine festival due to the remnants of a Tropical Storm coinciding with the event. The area was plagued by considerable flooding and there were public safety issues due to the storm. She supposedly lost $20,000 on the 2008 event.
Exhibitors are now in limbo. They signed up for a well established, successful show with a history of good attendance and decent sales. They did their homework and made well thought out business decisions. Will they get a refund? If so, how soon? It's a given they are out a selling opportunity on a prime weekend. It is unlikely any will find replacement shows on a day or two notice.
I don't have any answers for them. I can only sympathize with them and keep my fingers crossed they'll find a way to make up the sales. This loss was a big blow.
Stay tuned for more of "As The Show Dies." I'll try to keep you advised of any progress in this matter.
I had planned to tell you about last weekend's craft show at Kipona in this space today. I guess, I'll have to give you a bonus Working the Shows post tomorrow.