River Festival

Wichita Riverfest’s leader plans to leave job after this year’s event

Sights and sounds of the 2018 Wichita River Festival

2018 Wichita River Festival - Includes everything from the Sundown Parade to Wednesday's Cypress Hill concert.
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2018 Wichita River Festival - Includes everything from the Sundown Parade to Wednesday's Cypress Hill concert.

Mary Beth Jarvis, who has led the Wichita Riverfest since 2012, is leaving the position this summer.

On Thursday, Wichita Festivals Inc. announced that it would be looking for a new leader.

Jarvis will remain on the job for this year’s festival and also hopes to help her replacement transition into the job. The festival is scheduled for May 31-June 8 in downtown Wichita.

On Thursday, Jarvis said that it had never been her intention to remain in the top job at Riverfest for the long term.

“Fundamentally, when I got hired here, I said, ‘Hey, I think this role benefits from a fresh perspective after every five to seven years,” she said. “And this will be my seventh Riverfest.”

Jarvis, 50, whose husband, Don, is a New York City-based pilot for United Airlines, said she also hopes to spend more time with him there. He’s been the commuter in the relationship for years, she said, and the couple just got a small apartment in Manhattan.

Still, she said, she hasn’t ruled out taking on another job in Wichita, though she doesn’t know what it would be.

“I have spent zero minutes thinking about a next gig for lots of reasons,” she said. “One is that we’ve got a tiny thing called Riverfest to plan.”

Jarvis, a former Air Force captain who worked as a spokeswoman for both McConnell Air Force Base and Koch Industries, took over the job from longtime festival head Janet Wright, who retired in 2012 after 13 years. Jarvis shepherded in many changes at the festival, including raising the button prices from $5 to $10 for adults and adding a child’s button option in 2015, and fencing in the entire footprint of the festival to ensure button compliance.

According to a release from the Wichita Festivals board, the organization’s total revenue has risen 44 percent in the past six years, attributed mostly to a 93 percent increase in Riverfest button revenue and a 50 percent increase in Riverfest cash sponsorships. Attendance also is up more than 50 percent during that time period, and volunteer numbers have doubled.

Jarvis also served as chair of the high-profile Century II Citizens Advisory Committee, tasked with recommending how Wichita should move forward with its performing arts plan. After a year of work, the 12-person committee proposed in February building a new performing arts center in the heart of downtown. No action has been taken on their recommendation.

Kim Gattis, who is the Wichita Festival board’s incoming chair, will lead the search for Jarvis’ replacement. Interested candidates are asked to send a resume, cover letter and professional references to HR@wichitafestivals.com.

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Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.