The city of Williamston may not continue its annual art festival, Artfest, this year due to tight economic times and an absence of a head-coordinator.
For the past seven years Artfest has taken place in McCormick Park in downtown Williamston. The festival takes place in the middle of the summer for only one day, but that one day is packed full of events. Last year’s festival included free activities and local food, art on display, live performances and a wine-tasting tent featuring wines produced in Michigan.
A group named Team Artfest has pioneered the festival. The group formed after five individuals agreed they wanted to promote the arts culture in the area. They then formed the non-profit organization Team Artfest and started the festival.
Team Artfest uses fundraisers and donations to raise the money needed to put on the festival each year. The organization holds art auctions as a fundraiser for the festival and local businesses also contribute what they can. Artfest has been an important event for Williamston economics says Anne Silvingale from the Williamston Chamber of Commerce.
However, Phillis Chirico, art coordinator and one of the original five members of Team Artfest, is unsure if the festival will take place this year. Chirico says problems like a tornado that ripped through the festival grounds, the current economic situation and no head-coordinator for the festival all make this years Artfest uncertain.
Last fall a tornado hit Williamston and inflicted considerable damage. One place evident to this fact is McCormick Park, the site for Artfest, which lost 39 trees due to the tornado. Chirico, who also serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission, says most of the park is cleaned up with only a few stumps left. She adds, many projects are in motion to beautify the park but they will take time and she fears the park won’t be the same for the festival this year. “It was a beautiful setting,” says Chirico, “It was underneath all these beautiful big trees and right by the river.”
The festival grounds are not the only problem either. Since the festival is a non-profit venture, its survival depends solely on the charity and donations from the community. Local businesses provide anything they can, free of charge, to the festival and in return the businesses can promote and expose themselves to new customers. But with the nation’s economic troubles, and moreover Michigan’s, donations aren’t coming in like they once did.
Many businesses cannot afford to simply give products away for the festival or for its fundraisers anymore. Also members of the community are facing hard economic times and cannot donate and provide support like they once could. “Many people in the state, and the country, are facing hard times. It makes people re-distribute their budgets,” says Tom Stoessinger, a resident of Williamston.
However, the biggest problem facing Artfest is its lack of a head coordinator. Chirico and her daughter, Alenna Gentilozzi, acted as the art-coordinators while Chirrico’s other daughter, Gwen Brandon, was the head-coordinator. The festival is a large undertaking done by a limited number of people, and unfortunately Brandon can no longer head the festival. Coordinating the festival while maintaining a professional career has become too burdensome.
At the moment no one has stepped forward and taken action to continue the festival. Chirico says an event planner from Howell has expressed interest in continuing the festival, but no plans have been finalized.
Chirico cannot say for certain whether Artfest will continue this year or not. However, if anyone wishes to get involved and help the festival in anyway, Chirico says they should contact Williamston City Hall at 1-517-655-2774.