Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival is adjusting to the new normal of less money and fewer sponsors, so it is planning some changes for next year.
“This year was a challenge,” said James Menaker, executive director of the festival, which enters its 40th year in 2020. “Luckily, registrants did not feel the chaos going on behind the scenes.”
He spoke at the group’s annual meeting Tuesday night and told members that, despite the challenges, many participants said it was one of the best festivals they ever attended.
Chaos included sudden loss of housing for artists when those rooms had to go to hundreds of firefighters fighting nearby wildfires. The Alaska State Arts Council was disbanded via gubernatorial veto, so promised funding never arrived. And more.
Overall, participation increased for workshops. But attendance at performances showed a huge decline. There could be any number of reasons for that, Menaker said, but he doesn’t think it was the cost of admission. Concerts were $10 to $15 per ticket. In addition, more women than men attended festival workshops/events by a ratio of 3-to-1, and ages of participants were more diversified than in past years.
A whopping 300-350 satisfaction surveys were returned and they were overwhelmingly positive, Menaker said.
Visual Arts classes, organized by coordinator Nelda Nixon, were the most popular classes in 2019.
“Nelda’s program runs circles around everybody else,” Menaker said. “It’s a guaranteed win.”
Big grants and sponsors put creative writing classes in the “win” column as well, he said.
But, as he and the board looked at the 20 programs offered, they examined participation and profit and then had to determine whether those classes should continue to be offered. Improvisational Comedy, Scandinavian Music and Dance Intensive will not be offered in 2020 because of low participation or lack of finances. The Dance Intensive is different from World Music and Dance, which was very successful in 2019.
“We’re needing to make some changes for demographics and the financial climate,” Menaker said.
The numbers show that when people hit the age of 75, their participation in festival radically drops, whether it’s in the amount of money or housing they donate, or the workshops they take. Some longtime festival participants have been taking part since the festival began 40 years ago.
The amount of community involvement is also in fairly steady decline and festival needs to encourage new involvement and passion for the two-week annual event. Here are some changes in the works:
A new membership drive has been launched. For $20, members can attend the annual meeting, vote for the board of directors, register early for classes and attend a members-only event during the festival.
The biggest change will be in scheduling.
“Instead of performances every single night for two weeks, we’re going to have two weeks be simply workshops, with Lunch Bites, and then all the big concerts in one place at one time,” Menaker said. Lunch Bites are the daily lunchtime performances.
After the first week, perhaps the Beatles Concert will be held Friday or Saturday night. After the second week of workshops, the weekend may include concerts by Celtic, American Roots, Composing in the Wilderness and others.
“We’ll put together the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival Grand Showcase,” Menaker said. Details, including an official name for the weekend of concerts, are pending.
That would also bring all the festival faculty together in one spot, he added.
“It would save production costs and rental costs, and help eliminate a lot of scheduling conflict,” he said.
“This will be a different festival, but it will still be festival,” board member Glenn Brady said. He encouraged the board to remain flexible, adaptable and open to community engagement.
“Keeping open minds and open dialogue will be critical as we reshape and reform the festival,” he said.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris..