Organizers scrub Choochokam 2017, announce new vision

Choochokam is cancelled, again.

An email sent to a Langley business by the Choochokam Arts Foundation Board revealed news that the summer and music arts festival set for August 26-27 at Community Park has been scrubbed.

Repeated calls to event leaders this week were not returned.

The email states that the amount of work, cost and “difficulties navigating the politics of the festival” drained the foundation’s limited resources and were factors in the decision to cancel the event. It also said organizers no longer “see the benefit of keeping it” in its current state. They plan to change the focus of the foundation to supporting youth arts education programs. The email says the foundation has a mandate to support youth arts education programs both on and off Whidbey Island.

“We feel strongly that the funds that Choochokam raises to subsidize the festival can be put to better use to help bring arts education to our children through school and after school programs,” the email said.

Organizers say they plan to refund booth payments immediately.

Doug Coutts, director of South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, was given the news by organizers on Monday that the festival was “not moving forward.”

It would mark the second year in a row the event has been scrubbed. Organizers Celia Black, Gwen Jones and Michela Angelini, who run the Choochokam Arts Foundation, cancelled the 2016 event due to logistical problems with moving the event to Community Park. The organizers also moved the event out of Langley to “allow for growth.”

It was the first cancellation in the event’s 40-year history.

There were more problems than not being able to get the event on its feet. Over a dozen vendors who signed up for the 2014, 2015 and 2016 events complained of being owed between $300-380 for booth fees that had yet to be returned. The Record interviewed nine of the vendors who were owed a combined $6,485. Black and Jones promised to pay back the vendors, which appears to have happened for at least two vendors who told The Record they were reimbursed.

Coutts said the event was nearing the final stages of approval when the organizers asked him to remove it from the agenda for the commissioners’ regular monthly meeting on Wednesday night.

The following is an email sent by the Choochokam Arts Foundation Board to a Langley business:

Good morning!

Hope your summer is progressing wonderfully and you’re enjoying a lovely season!

As an exhibitor or vendor during the Choochokam Music + Makers Festival, August 27-28 at the South Whidbey Community Park we want to thank you again for your support for the festival, either as a new Exhibitor/Vendor or a returning one.

That said, we are writing today to let you know that we are not going to be holding the Festival going forward as it exists now, and we will be refunding your booth payments, whether new or rolled over from last year, immediately.

Choochokam Arts Foundation, the parent of the festival, has as its mandate the support of youth arts education programs, both on and off Whidbey Island, yet for many years it has run the festival with very little resulting benefit to the schools, school programs or community programs that offer arts education.

In the past four years, Choochkam Arts Foundation has worked to support Whidbey Children’s Theatre and their arts programs through grants from the Foundation, but the funding from the festival has only covered part of the festival costs, and so much more is needed to provide support for the arts today.

The Festival, while a lovely weekend event, has been one of many arts and craft fairs in the region, but as a fundraiser for arts education it has never been effective, and as costs increase annually we find that Choochokam needs to be either a Foundation supporting the arts, or a festival for profit, to be able to move forward.

As a Foundation, we can provide grants and support to a number of programs through sponsorships and traditional fundraising, and our goal is to increase the support we provide first to local island programs, then to the region when possible. We have already been doing so on a small scale since 2013.

As for the festival, the amount of work, the cost of the event, and the difficulties in navigating the politics of the festival make it such a drain on the limited resources that Choochokam Arts Foundation has had that we just cannot see the benefit of keeping it on in its current state. We feel strongly that the funds that Choochokam raises to subsidize the festival can be put to better use to help bring arts education to our children through school and after school programs.

We may bring the festival back one day, in a form that will benefit arts education, but for now, we say a fond farewell to the festival and an enthusiastic ‘Hello’ to active support for arts programs in the next year!

In regards to your refund for your booth space, they will be processed in the next 24 hours, and you will receive an email confirmation of your refund being processed as soon as it goes through our system. Funds will be returned to the card you used to purchase your booth space. If you paid for your booth by cash or check, please email to confirm your mailing address and we will send out checks via registered mail within 1 business day of receipt of your email.

If you have applied to participate and not yet paid your invoice, please note that we will be canceling the unpaid invoices as of today and will not be accepting payment on those.

We’ll be updating the website over the course of the next two weeks and will have info on how to participate in supporting the arts programs on Whidbey Island and around the region.

While we would love to see each of you in August, we hope it will be at a fundraiser for arts education rather than the festival, and we thank you so much for your understanding and wish you the best possible summer.

With great fondness and excitement for the future,

Your Choochokam Arts Foundation Board