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Festival changes could shut out local nonprofits

Ely Chamber says shrinking space at Whiteside Park will mean fewer booths at Blueberry, Harvest Moon

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/26/19

ELY - The Chamber of Commerce’s recent removal of the nonprofit category for participation in the city’s festivals, starting next year, will affect more than a dozen local organizations …

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Festival changes could shut out local nonprofits

Ely Chamber says shrinking space at Whiteside Park will mean fewer booths at Blueberry, Harvest Moon

Posted

ELY - The Chamber of Commerce’s recent removal of the nonprofit category for participation in the city’s festivals, starting next year, will affect more than a dozen local organizations that rely on the Blueberry/Art and Harvest Moon festivals for a large portion of their annual fundraising efforts.
“The decision to remove the nonprofit category was not an easy one and something that was not taken lightly,” said Executive Director Eva Sebesta. “Due to challenges with operating the festival, it became necessary to make a change for its health and continuation.  Prior to making the final decision, we consulted our attorney who offered recommendations.  This was a conversation we had over the course of months as options were discussed.”
Both the Blueberry/Art and Harvest Moon festivals are traditionally billed as art and craft shows, and the Chamber is trying to keep to that theme.  “We are very grateful to have offered an opportunity for those nonprofits to participate under the nonprofit category. However, things have dramatically changed,” Sebesta said. 
“As an event organizer, we plan festivals around the existing footprint of (Whiteside) park,” she said.  “The Blueberry/Art Festival map used through last summer has existed for more than 10 years.  With the ongoing park changes, we have literally been trying to put 15 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound sack.  The Blueberry/Art Festival demands every inch of usable space, which has dramatically decreased.”
She noted that Whiteside Park is a beautiful location, but changes continue to occur. “Trees mature, die and are replaced,” Sebesta said.  “Benches, picnic tables, playground equipment and other amenities are added, shifted or expanded.”
The Blueberry/Art Festival has traditionally accommodated more than 300 booths, according to the Chamber.  “We are remapping the festival, which tracks the existing park features and then overlays booths within the usable space,” she said.  “We know we will lose, at minimum, 12 booth spaces.  It is possible we will lose over 20 booths.”
Sebesta explained that if the non-qualifying nonprofit groups feel they can fit into one of the art, craft or food categories, they are welcome to apply to either or both festivals using the appropriate jury application. “For the nonprofits that have reached out to us, we have taken the time to listen to their concerns and offer additional opportunities,” she said.
The Ely-Winton Historical Society is on the list of non-qualified organizations. “The EWHS and many other non-profits that represent Ely are worried about what happens when the ‘essential Ely’ is removed from these festivals,” said EWHS Director Margaret Sweet.
“While we were encouraged to move our booths to the (Ely Ice Arena), that still cuts down on our sales by one day as the arena is not open on Sundays. It also eliminates Harvest Moon entirely as the Blue Line Club which operates the flea market sales in the arena has not participated in that festival,” she said.
Sebesta said the arena location is an opportunity for nonprofits to exhibit during Blueberry/Art weekend without having to create a new event.  “The hockey arena is adjacent to the park within walking distance,” she said.  “Should non-profits choose to participate in the Blue Line event, they will be supporting a fellow nonprofit focusing on Ely’s youth hockey program.  This is a viable option for nonprofits.”
Sebesta noted that the Ely Chamber of Commerce is not opposed to nonprofits. “We are strong supporters of our nonprofits and provide funding for a variety of groups in the community.  However, we are losing a significant amount of space (in Whiteside Park) and need to make changes for the health and continued success of each art and craft festival.”
Nonprofits remaining in the festivals, according to the chamber, include the Ely Fire Department, Ely Jaycees, Ely Kiwanis Club, Incredible Ely and the Ely Hoop Club.  “The first four nonprofits listed are in the food vendor category,” Sebesta noted.  “The Ely Hoop Club provides all of the garbage and recycling cleanup during each festival.”
 Economic driver
Both of Ely’s premier festivals are promoted as art and craft events, and visitors come to town by the tens of thousands. “We need to remain true to the mission of both events, which are economic drivers bringing people to Ely for the event, and exposing them to our retail businesses, restaurants and lodging facilities,” Sebesta said.
Revenue generated from both the Blueberry/Art and Harvest Moon festivals provides the funding for all of the chamber’s other events and promotions held throughout the year.
Other chamber events here include the Mrs. Claus Party, Thanksgiving Night Shopping, Smalltown Christmas, Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony, Northwoods Medallion Hunt, City Wide Rummage and Business Crazy Day Sale, Business Appreciation Day, Tuesday Nite Live, Chocoholic Frolic and the Passport to Savings Coupon Book. 
In addition, Sebesta added, festival revenue also provides donations and sponsorships to local nonprofits and their events, including: Ely Winter Festival, KCPro Kids Snowmobile Racing, WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race, Peter Mitchell Days, Legion Baseball Tournament, Ely-Winton History Nights, Northwoods Partners Tree of Lights, Ely’s Historic State Theater, Snowmobile FunRun, Jake Forsman Burnout and Car Show, Ely Nordic Ski Association, Washington PTO, Ely Golf Club, Happy Days Preschool, and All Night Graduation Party.

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