Wichita Black Arts Festival considers changes after disappointing turnout

09/03/2014 1:20 PM

09/03/2014 6:54 PM

Attendance and vendor numbers were down at the Wichita Black Arts Festival this year, and one participant said it is time for a fresh start.

A new location, for one thing, is being considered, said the president of the festival association, Carl Stovall.

Hot weather caused some of this year’s events to be rescheduled to cooler parts of the Labor Day weekend, Stovall said, and a miscommunication involving permits cut the number of food vendors in half, to eight.

And, as in the past few years, the festival was not able to afford a national performing act to headline it, Stovall said.

“It wasn’t as attended as we hoped it would be and as it has been,” Stovall said Tuesday of the event that is held for all three days of the Labor Day weekend at McAdams Park. Stovall said that the lack of a headliner and the heat were mostly to blame. Exact attendance figures were not available.

“Our parade,” which kicked off the festival late Saturday morning, “went extremely well,” Stovall said. The parade ended at the park, but most of the people who came for the parade did not stay around for the afternoon.

At least three visual artists were part of the arts festival, Stovall said, and they were located by the tennis courts so that they could be in the shade.

“In some years we’ve had more,” he said.

One event – the fashion show – took place Saturday even though the event’s schedule listed it for Monday. Steven Roland, who worked on the fitness-fashion part of the show, said it was moved back one hour on Saturday because no one was there to watch it.

When it did take place, “we didn’t have an audience other than our family members,” Roland said. Even so, it was fun, he said.

Paul White of P&P Seed and Bait said he offered more food this year at his booth to try to take up the slack caused by fewer vendors. No one attended a garden seminar he had scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

“It wasn’t very well-attended at all,” White said of the festival. Some people said they hadn’t heard about it, he said.

“The main question people are asking is, ‘Are you gonna have a headliner coming?’ … The problem is getting somebody to sponsor it. They need to start working on that now.”

Donations to the festival have been down for the past several years, and the last time the festival had a headliner was in 2009, Stovall said. An online donation site with a goal of raising $25,000 for the festival had raised $980 as of Tuesday.

But Stovall said he expects better things.

“We have aligned ourselves with some partnerships and are hoping to take full advantage of that,” he said, and the festival is also pursuing grants.

Another positive is that more people are buying the $3 buttons that are the admission ticket to the festival, Stovall said.

There is also talk about changing locations, he said, because some people do not feel comfortable going to McAdams Park, which is near 13th Street and the Canal Route. He said surveys have shown “an ill-founded fear among the non-African-American community” about going to the park.

The festival used to be at Wichita State University, and it moved to McAdams in 2002 because of construction on campus, Stovall said. He said a return to WSU would be considered.

“We just need a new start,” White said. “We need a new birth. It needs to be revamped.”

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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