MOUNT VERNON — Pat Crow, director of the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival, has issued a nearly 80-page report about the impact of the event on Mount Vernon over the last decade. This comes in the wake of sharp criticism from some sections of the community after the festivals of 2008 and 2009.
“There’s no doubt 2008 was a low year,” Crow said. “We got slammed after the festival by the art community.”
That year, the committee chairman in charge of gathering fine artists for the festival resigned late in the planning phase, and Crow found himself with very few artists lined up for the visual arts portion of the festival.
“I don’t know how that got past us,” Crow said, explaining that he and wife, festival co-director Sandy Crow, are usually able to get a sense of how each committee is progressing by the chairman’s report.
In 2008, however, the directors did not spot that a problem was developing until the resignation. All that could be done on short notice was to quickly recruit a handful of fine artists willing to jump in at the last minute. But, he said, it left the fine arts portion of the festival distinctly sparse, with only 13 vendors.
Crow said 2009 was a building year for the arts part of the festival, and that fine arts co-chairmen Joshua Morrison and Joe Bell have their hands full rebuilding it. He expressed full confidence they would be successful, athough he pointed out that the ultimate success of the fine arts show will depend on where that industry is going.
For instance, he said, the best years of the festival in the past decade saw nearly 70 vendors, although the average has been around 50. He said he intends to attend some other regional fine arts shows this summer to get a perception of the arts community throughout Ohio.
Crow added that although the artisans made up an important part of the show, it was only one element and that he didn’t want to give it undue influence.
Crow said negative impressions such as the fine arts show problems were why the festival decided to put out a detailed report, in order to clarify and explain some processes, while acknowledging and answering criticisms, too.
Crow said the festival runs independent of the Knox County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and independent of the organization created to oversee the restoration of the Woodward Opera House. Crow and his wife serve as volunteer directors for the festival, each putting about 500 hours in per year without pay.
The report was first planned after 2008, but the process of gathering together a great deal of information and the desire to do a patron survey meant that the report was not ready to go by last year’s festival. Crow said the firestorm of criticism that was on Knox Pages until he stepped in to explain how the festival operated demonstrated the need for this report, which will be posted on the festival’s Web site, www.danemmettfestival.org within a week.
The festival serves local performers as an outlet for practical experience and notice, Crow said, pointing out that in 2009, 668 performers stepped on stage; 73 percent were Knox County youths and 24 percent local adults, while out-of-county performers were less than 3 percent. He discussed the educational impact of the festival, the impact on the audience and the attention brought to important community figures by such awards as the Eleanor Wright Unsung Hero Award, the Community Development Leadership Award, and “The Emmett,” the award started last year to salute community performing arts achievement.
The report also includes unedited survey responses, some of which are highly critical of certain aspects of the festival. One common complaint was the Knox Idol program was a popularity contest, not an evaluation of true talent.
“That’s absolutely correct,” Crow said, explaining that the only goal in creating Knox Idol was to echo the style of the popular “American Idol” television show, where the audience determines the outcome, not the judges.
Some downtown businesses complained about having vendor booths set up in front of their stores. Crow said all vendors were given the option of renting the space before their stores to have their own booths, but most declined, although one which did told Crow it had excellent sales. Crow said it was decided to put Homemades & Trades in front of stores because most of those vendors had open-backed booths, allowing customers to see through to stores. Fine arts booths, with mostly closed backs for hanging artworks, were moved to the square.
A number of respondents said why not turn the booths back-to-back down Main Street, creating two rows, leaving the storefronts open. Crow said the road design would not allow sufficient width for emergency vehicle access if two aisles are created, mainly because of the insets at intersections which define the end of street parking spaces. Crow said if the booths were centrally located and reduced in number enough for emergency vehicles to get past the concrete insets, it would reduce the total number of booths from one-third to one-half.
Another common complaint was with the music. A number of people asked for country music and even more asked for more up-to-date rock. Several respondents complained about the continued presence of Phil Dirt and the Dozers at the festival; at the same time, the band was voted the single most popular attraction of the festival by other respondents.
Crow said these were specific choices made by the festival to appeal to the widest range of people while creating the least offense and avoiding political statements of any kind. Crow said country has been avoided specifically because country is the stock-in-trade of the Knox County Fair, which precedes the Dan Emmett festival by two weeks.
“We have hung with the baby boomers because that’s the music that appeals to the biggest number of people,” Crow said, adding that it was the music which appealed to the demographic most likely to turn out and spend money at the event.
Crow said the online survey was very useful and may become an annual follow-up, in addition to the wrap-up meetings where people can publicly comment.