EDITORIAL | Time for a new tune with Choochokam

The 2016 Choochokam Music and Arts Festival was publicly cancelled this week, and with it 40 years of tradition and cultural identity came to a screeching halt.

What a shame.

We are generally averse to issuing opinions about non-profit groups and the volunteers who run them, but in this case we feel compelled to do so. The cancellation of this year’s event was a spectacular failure, one predicted by many for months, and members of the Choochokam Arts Foundation, the entity responsible for putting on the annual event, need to step down. And they need to do it now so that another group can pick up the torch for 2017.

Choochokam isn’t some garage sale — it’s a cultural icon, an event that’s come to define Langley. If it’s to survive, it cannot fail again and the current leadership has proved itself not up to the task.

It’s also no secret that the public confidence in the foundation’s leadership ranks is at an all-time low. Case in point, this was one of the biggest stories to hit South Whidbey this year, but one could hardly call it “news.” The writing had been on the wall for months, if not years, and the announcement was only a confirmation, or rather a blessed end to the river of rumor that’s persisted for weeks.

Many were expecting the decision.

That distrust was earned. The past few years have seen a series of incidents that severely eroded the community’s faith in the foundation’s leadership, from financial issues to major decisions being made without any input.

Last year’s public squabbles and complaints over bands not being paid left many in the South Whidbey music community furious. Many don’t even want to participate, which strikes us as a travesty because this is a South Whidbey event. Other financial issues are telling — that the foundation still owes the city money and that organizers have had to put their own money into the event. As well intentioned as that was, it’s not the way to run an event.

Equally disturbing is the way the event moved out of Langley. Organizers intended to keep it a secret until the move was approved by the parks district. They even asked The Record to hold a story about the plan after the cat was let out to the bag during a Langley City Council meeting.

Not only should this have been an inclusive community discussion, but it should never have been done six months from the event date.

Again, this was a spectacular failure on many levels. While foundation leaders have made personal sacrifices to keep the event alive and clearly care about Choochokam, it’s time for a new tune.