Two groups look at reviving Choochokam

Who owns the name is still a question

Choochokam is back.

At least in conversations.

It’s possible that by next summer Choochokam or a “Choochokam-like festival” will be back after a four-year hiatus.

Two separate groups say they are pursuing a 2020 festival goal. Both say they have dibs on the name Choochokam, which actually is a word from the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, meaning “a gathering of the stars.”

Carie Elder took the lead this spring to revive the festival after some people expressed support for it at a Langley community gathering in February.

“There were definite voices against it,” said Elder, a baker, owner of Whidbey Wonders and Bayview Community Hall event organizer. “But many people at the meeting said, ‘Why can’t we?’”

After a nonprofit group is established and board of directors and mission statement finalized, possible strategy and events will be discussed, Elder said. The new group could both organize music events and provide talent for events. Starting small with a summer festival probably called Choochokam and focused on all-island art and music in 2020 is one idea, Elder said.

“We’re looking at a musicians’ collective to provide a centralized location so people looking for musicians can find them,” she said.

The longtime Choochokam Music & Arts Festival attracted thousands of people to Langley on the second weekend of July for 41 years. Bands played, people danced in the streets, artists demonstrated their craft and dozens of food vendors and exhibitors paid for booths to be part of the summer’s biggest street fair.

The festival began small in 1975, launched by the Island Arts Council to benefit children’s arts education. It turned into the longest-running independent music and arts festival in the Northwest, attracting some 15,000 people.

Scheduled to take place in 2016 in the new venue of Community Park, the event was canceled at the last minute by Choochokam Arts Foundation organizers. They cited several hurdles that had delayed them in getting the needed contract with the South Whidbey Parks District and decided it would be best to cancel the event until the following year.

In 2017, the Choochokam festival at Community Park was canceled two months prior to its Aug. 26-27 date. Langley now holds a summer Street Dance in July. Additionally, an event called Little Big Fest Music and Arts Festival is scheduled in August for its second year on the grounds of Roaming Radish.

How and if Choochokam, the festival, should be revived was first discussed in February at a meeting organized by Craig Cyr and attended by several dozen citizens, organizations, Langley Mayor Tim Callison and representatives of Langley arts community. Cyr has since announced he’s running for Langley City Council in November.

“They engaged in a comprehensive and robust discussion exploring all aspects of bringing back Choochokam,” Cyr said. “It was a difficult conversation.”

Cyr outlined the history of the festival and then listed the good and bad baggage associated with it.

Among the good: Choochokam was part of Langley’s history and created “tremendous historical community goodwill.”

But the bad feeling in the room left Cyr to conclude “Choochokam” wasn’t a word many wanted to ever hear again.

“It was very clear that the assembled group concluded it would never be possible to reconstitute Choochokam,” Cyr commented on the Imagine Choochokam 2.0 Facebook page he created. “The distrust and negative feelings from all quarters make it impossible.”

Longtime resident Sharen Heath commented, “I feel that the street fair, music and dance was very fun. To overcome the bad taste of the waning years, a new and improved, fair and successful event would go a long way toward overcoming those sour years.”

Cyr published a letter to the editor this month in The Record stating “that a path exists for bringing back a city festival like Choochokam on the second weekend of July, and that indeed there was no legal or formal barrier to using the name “Choochokam.”

However, the Choochokam Arts Foundations stated in a text to The Record that it has “been working the past few years revamping the festival, getting the nonprofit back in the black, and helping to bring arts and arts education back throughout Island County.”

When canceling the event in 2017, organizers Celia Black, Gwen Jones and Michela Angelini of the Choochokam Arts Foundation sent out an email at the time explaining that funds raised by the group to subsidize the festival “could be put to better use to help bring arts education to our children through school and after school programs.”

These last-minute change in plans affected many vendors that had been booked for the shows and had submitted deposits for booth space. Elder said one idea is to invite any vendors who lost their deposits to set up at no charge at the 2020 event.

The Choochokam Arts Foundation still maintains a website that states a mission “to create an organization that reflects the richness of Langley’s artistic community and encourages participation in local celebration.”

When asked about the February meeting, the Choochokam Arts Foundation replied: “If there was a meeting about ‘Choochokam’ please note the name is owned by the foundation and the next festival we have plans for is 2020.”

But records show that on Oct. 18, 2016, the Choochokam Arts Foundation was deemed “administratively dissolved” by the Washington State Corporations and Charities Division “due to failure of the entity to file a required report within the time frame set forth by the law.”

A search under IRS 990 filing reports, which is annually required by nonprofit independent organizations, shows an organization called Choochokam last filed a 990 form in 2007 with a revenue of $45,000 and assets of less than $5,000.

The Choochokam Arts Foundation website also states: “We are always open to volunteers assisting our exhibitors during the festival, as well as assisting the entertainment committee as they methodically process hundreds of applications each year.”

There’s been no festival since 2015.