Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Midway Renaissance group takes over art fair

By Emily Zengel
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Two Midway organizations have established a much stronger connection, giving hope that both will continue with their successful pasts. But in the town of 1,620, not everyone had the same views about combining a not-for-profit corporation and the Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival.

Midway Renaissance Inc. will now be solely responsible for planning the start-of-summer festival. The decision came during the Jan. 21 city council meeting, where members voted to rescind Midway’s current agreement with Midway College, and transfer the responsibility for the festival to Renaissance.

“It will remain a partnership, really a collaborative effort of Renaissance, the city of Midway, and Midway College,” Midway Renaissance President Randy Thomas said in an interview. “The only thing that’s changing is the oversight responsibility.”

Francisco’s Farm has been a successful, juried art fair since its creation in 2004.

The festival has won numerous awards since its debut. It won the 2004 Enterprise Cities Award from the Kentucky League of Cities. It’s twice been placed among the Top Ten Festivals and Events by the Kentucky Tourism Council and was among the “Top 20 Events” for June 2007 and 2008 chosen by the Southeast Tourism Society. In January, The Kentucky Festival and Events Association presented Francisco’s Farm with its “Best Festival Website” award. To see the site, go to www.franciscosfarm.org.

Christensen said the change in responsibility will not affect Francisco’s Farm.

“I don’t think the festival will change as a result of moving to Midway Renaissance. I think it’s just come home to Renaissance, because it started there,” said Christensen, who is employed by the corporation.

The festival took some time to get ready for the public. According to Christensen, a small committee of Midway Renaissance, the Social and Cultural Action Team, began planning the event with some advice from Mike Stutland, owner of the Artique Gallery in the nearby city of Lexington.

“They decided that an art festival would be a very good fit for Midway, something to engage the whole community, and something of which the whole community would be proud,” said Christensen.

And so far, the festival has engaged a large part of the community.

“We average that better than 10 percent of the community is involved,” said Council Member Charlann Wombles. The city’s population in 2000 was 1,620, so if Wombles is accurate, about 162 people help with the festival.

At the first festival, volunteers outnumbered the artists two to one, according to Christensen. They helped set up booths for the artists, brought them water and helped many other ways as well. In its first year, Christensen estimates that there were 75 artists. Last year’s festival brought in 130.

Christensen and Wombles attribute part of the growth and success of the festival to the way volunteers treated the artists. It seems the festival had some unexpected benefits for the community, especially those involved with the event.

“There’s something about working side by side with people that you may not socialize with, necessarily, year round; but getting to know people who have, for one thing, the common interest: loving the town where you live,” said Christensen.

Midway Renaissance, is an organization that receives funding from the statewide Renaissance on Main Program. Gov. Paul Patton began the initiative as Renaissance Kentucky in 1999; the goal of which was to give financial assistance to small communities for downtown development.

The original agreement made Nov. 27, 2006, between Midway College, the City of Midway and Midway Renaissance said the college was to provide facilities, food service and college employees. The city was to provide a contract with an event coordinator (with the advice of Renaissance), a bank account for event funding, fundraising, and student scholarships.

That agreement and another were rescinded at the council meeting. The new agreement states that Renaissance is responsible for conducting Francisco’s Farm in 2008. New Renaissance responsibilities will also include handling all financial aspects of the event and contracting with the event coordinator, to be paid solely from festival funds. Upon request, the city may provide employees to help before and after the event.

“I think the college is glad where [Francisco’s Farm] can come out from under them because it’s less responsibility for them. I know from the mayor’s standpoint, I feel like it’s the same thing with him. They have more important issues to deal with,” said John McDaniel, who is a director of Midway Main Street Renaissance.

Main Street Renaissance, which is a branch of Midway Renaissance Inc., focuses on the improvement of Main Street.

The new agreement was signed by Thomas and Mayor Tom Bozarth, after a few changes that were made during the council meeting. Council Member Charlann Wombles said the changes made involved the wording of the contract.

“There have been agreements that have had to be developed and worded to suit everyone,” said Wombles.

Wombles added that most of the work on the agreement was done by volunteers. One of the changes made was requested by Council Member Sheila Redmond. She suggested that Renaissance should be able to request, instead of require, assistance from the city. That change was approved.

Redmond originally said she was disappointed about the transfer of Francisco’s Farm to Midway Renaissance, because she wanted to see more people in the community involved than just those in Renaissance.

“It’s not really going exactly the way I think it should go. I’m glad it’s out from under the city,” Redmond said. “But the city is so intertwined with Renaissance, that I question the wisdom of that. But at the same time, maybe it is the way to go.” Renaissance was created by the city, and Bozarth is the corporation’s process agent.

Redmond would like to involve new community members and possibly residents of Lexington and Frankfort as well, because she said fresh ideas can help organizations thrive, and would like to see a creation of open forums.

“People could sign up and say, ‘you know I really think I have some things that I could add to Francisco Farm, and I’d like to be part of that’,” said Redmond.

Although everyone may not be on the same page about the agreement, it seems that people really do love the town of Midway, and want to see it grow and thrive, through Francisco’s Farm, other arts or other avenues all together.

“I would love to see a venue for art education and opportunities for adults, children and the whole community,” said Wombles, adding that she believes Midway residents are very ripe for art education.

Redmond wants one organization to house several kinds of arts projects, and hopes that in the future, something like this may be possible. She originally created the Midway Arts Foundation for similar reasons.

“It started out pretty good. They had a pretty good response and everything,” said McDaniel. But after a little while, he said, “Arts in Midway kind of faded.”

The festival may be an exception to McDaniel’s statement. When asked about her vision for arts in Midway, Redmond said “For all intents and purposes right now, there is no arts in Midway. It’s kind of a failed effort, one that I hope in the future will revive in one sort or another.”

Despite her disappointment in Renaissance’s new responsibilities, she remained positive.

“I think there’s hope for the future, and I think the time has to be right for things, and maybe just the time isn’t quite right,” said Redmond.

But no matter what organization residents become involved with, whether it’s a current one or one that has yet to be created, Christensen gives a good reason for why people do so.

“I think that everyone has a need to be, to contribute and to be involved with other people in the creation of something that they see as a good thing,” said Christensen.

This year’s Francisco’s Farm will be held June 21-22.

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