Janet Wright, president and CEO of the nonprofit organization that puts on Wichita’s River Festival, announced Tuesday that she is retiring at the end of the year.
After 13 years, the longest anyone has held the position with Wichita Festivals Inc., Wright said she decided it was time to leave the demanding position, which she noted is very much in the public eye. Wright, 64, has held the position since 1999; Riverfest began in 1972.
“I’ll let somebody else take the heat for a while,” Wright said, laughing.
She said “there’s really no underlying problem” in her decision to leave, and she thinks the group’s board was surprised at her announcement.
Richard Honeyman, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said Tuesday in a statement: “Janet will be sorely missed but has certainly earned the right to a respite from the frantic activity her job entails. She has been a terrific steward of the magical thing we call Riverfest and is making sure Autumn and Art, held in September, continues to grow. Our loss is her family’s gain but we know she’ll be around, it’s in her blood.”
The statement said Wright will help plan the 2013 Riverfest and this year’s Autumn and Art.
Bill Gardner, the board’s chairman-elect, will lead a search committee to find her replacement.
Wright said she wants to spend time with her four grandchildren, relax and maybe try something new.
She said she has enjoyed the job. “It’s been fun, and I don’t regret a minute of it. I met wonderful people and such a wide variety of people.”
Still, she said she has felt during the past year or so that her ability to be as creative and passionate about the job as she once was “has diminished somewhat.”
She called her job a “difficult public position. I think I got tired of being in that public eye.”
It hit her, as she watched the crowd at this year’s Riverfest, that “I was really … tired. It wasn’t much fun anymore. When you do it for so long, it’s very hard for you to hold your zeal.”
Early in her tenure, she said she realized “it’s really impossible to please everybody.”
And there have been ongoing challenges. She said that Riverfest has felt economic pressures in recent years “just like so many other businesses.”
For 2011, Wichita Festivals reported revenue of $1.9 million, about $35,000 more than its expenses. In 2010, the group reported a loss of about $174,000.
Wright, who was paid $93,289 last year according to the group’s IRS form, said she was disappointed in Riverfest’s attendance, which she said was about 250,000 during the last event, when she hoped it would have increased.
Although she is leaving the position, Wright said, “I want people to understand: I’m still interested in being involved in the community in some way meaningful.
“You’re never too young to start something new.”
Contributing: Denise Neil of The Eagle