Plans for an art festival slated for the end of August in Riverside’s Guthrie Park have been put on hold for at least a year. Last Thursday, Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush announced that due to a lack of artists available to participate in the Riverside Art Fair and Chalkfest slated for the weekend of Aug. 27-28, the event has been canceled, though it may return in July or August of 2006.

In May, Riverside village trustees and the
Riverside Township Chamber of Commerce gave the green light for funding the festival, which would have been the first art fair in the village in six years. The fair was to have featured both art vendors as well as a “Chalkfest” event where artists would have created a work of art during the weekend event, which would have been available for purchase at the fair’s end.

The Chalkfest idea had been pitched late in 2004 to the village’s Economic Development Commission, which embraced the idea immediately. In order to get the event organized, the commission turned to Chicago Special Events, an event management firm.

While organizers had hoped to line up enough artists to launch the festival this summer, the quick turnaround wasn’t realistic.

“We wanted the first year to be spectacular, and we were afraid that having just 40 to 50 artists would be considered small,” said Hank Zemola, CEO of Chicago Special Events. “We wanted them to have a positive experience.”

According to Zemola, most artists pick and choose the events they will attend in January or February each year. With such a late start, Zemola said he couldn’t find enough artists to commit to Riverside’s fair.

“We had some that said they’d have loved to do it, but they were already somewhere else,” Zemola said. “By the time the funding was approved, it was too late.”

Olga Sylvester, who as both a member of the Economic Development Commission and as treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce, backed the idea of the art fair, said she also didn’t want to present a mediocre event.

She indicated that the number of vendors signed for this year’s fair totaled fewer than 10.

“When I met with the event planners [earlier in the year], they said they could put it together,” Sylvester said. “I think it can still be done, but that they’ll do a much better job next year. I don’t want to put it together and have it be a disaster, we would have been on the hook for $40,000.”

According to Sylvester, neither the village nor the Chamber of Commerce, which each fronted $3,500 as a management fee, will lose that money. Instead, the planning process is simply being extended to next year.

Zemola said that three possible dates have been identified for next year?”July 8-9, July 22-23 and Aug. 26-27. The Economic Development Commission is scheduled to meet tomorrow night to decide on a 2006 date and discuss plans for next year’s event.

Village Manager Kathleen Rush was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.