Hippo Manchester
September 15, 2005

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Art in the Park sees attendance dip

Painter: I had much more traffic at my booth this time last year

By Michelle Saturley

The Manchester Artists Association transformed Veterans Park into an outdoor art gallery with its annual Art in the Park show, Sept. 10 and 11. The event featured both wild and traditional paintings and photographs and showcased the many talented artists who live and work in the city.

The weather for the weekend event was spectacular but participating artists agreed that attendance this year was down significantly compared to previous years and to other area art events.

“I had much more traffic at my booth last year by this time of day,” said Anne-Marie Swierz, a portrait painter who lives in Manchester.

Some of the artists speculated that the thinner crowd was the result of less advertising prior to the event, while others thought that it was the competition of the Mill City Festival, which was going on just down the street in Arms Park. In previous years, the MAA art show and the Mill City Festival worked together, but this year, organizers of both events severed the two events. The Mill City Festival also fielded a smaller than usual crowd.

“In previous years, there was a trolley that ran between Veterans and Arms Parks, transporting people from one event to the other,” said James Chase, an MAA member and winner of last year’s Best in Show award. “We would send people down there, and they would send people up here. This year, there’s not a trolley and I think it affected the turnout.”

The Mill City Festival also hosted area folk artists on their site but some artists said that the higher-than-last-year’s rental rates made that option cost-prohibitive.

“Their rates went up for booth rental this year, and I couldn’t afford it,” said painter Jane Paul, a new MAA member from Merrimack. “It was more financially reasonable for me to be a part of the MAA show at Veterans Park.”

Monty Whitfield, a member of the Nashua Area Artists Association as well as the MAA, noticed a drop in attendance as well.

“I was at the Greeley Park Show in Nashua this year, and that venue was jam-packed on the opening day,” he said. “It was like that here last year, too. I’m hoping it will pick up later, when people are done down at the Mill City Festival. Sunday is also supposed to be a beautiful day, perfect for the show, so things could change. But in my experience, the opening day is the big day, and Sunday is historically kind of quiet.”

Mill City Festival director Jane Beaulieu said that in past years, festival organizers were able to find a corporate sponsor to fund a trolley between the two events, but this year, a sponsor couldn’t be procured.

“I always liked the trolley as a way to link the two events, but we couldn’t find a sponsor this year, and those trolleys are expensive to rent for the day,” she said. “I had a feeling that it would hurt the Art in the Park event, but unfortunately, there wasn’t much we could do about it.”

Another element that might have been a factor was a “changing of the guard” within the MAA. Outgoing MAA vice president Larry Donovan, a long-time Manchester resident who worked tirelessly to promote the event, handed over the reins of Art in the Park to a new MAA president this year.

“I don’t know the name of the new president at the MAA,” Beaulieu said. “I didn’t have the ability this year to reach out and find out who she was, because I’ve been so focused on planning the festival.”

Beaulieu said that years ago, the MAA was a part of the festival when it was known as RiverFest, but the group broke away to form its own event when the atmosphere of RiverFest got too much like a “carnival.”

Though the art at the Mill City Festival this year focused more on folk and non-traditional artists including local artisans and the Monastery Artists Collective, Beaulieu said she believes there is room for the more traditional works of the MAA as well.

“I would like to see the MAA come back to the new festival and be part of the event, because I think it would be beneficial to both organizations,” she said.