From Autumn Festival to Fallen Festival

Filed in National by on August 29, 2009

The Brandywine Arts Festival is a staple in northern Delaware. Its appearance along with The Arden Fair signal the change of seasons. As many of you have probably already heard, the Brandywine Arts Festival is without a home this year. Ryan Cormier has a great news article in the News Journal documenting the Brandywine Arts Festival’s journey from an yearly event to its current state of limbo with a touch of the hinky.

The News Journal reports that the Brandywine Arts Festival recently tried to move to St. Anthony in the Hills but was turned down. Artists and craft people, who have already paid money to the festival, have had no communication from the festival organizers, writes the NJ.

When the News Journal contacted the festival organizers, they were told to contact the festival lawyers for comment — not a good sign. And here is the hinky part, when the NJ contacted the attorney, the lawyer said that he was not representing the festival. According to the NJ, the organizers say that they are in the midst of hiring new representation.

As much as one can hope that the festival goes on, it doesn’t look good at this point.

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Comments (47)

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  1. Susan Regis Collins says:

    It seems they need new organizers….Why not the riverfront? St. Hedwig’s has had the good sense to move its festival there. St. Anthony’s won’t even take that garrish event they sponsor to “the hills” (nor the riverfront for that matter) so I’m not the least bit surprised they did not welcome the arts festival.

    The Brandywine Arts Festival has been going down hill since they have tried to turn it into a money maker…..most of the artists and crafters are still alive :-)

  2. anon says:

    Why do we need so many festivals in the state, anyway?

  3. nemski says:

    anon, does anyone force you to go to festivals? Anywho, festivals are a means for some non-profit organizations (churches, for example) to raise some cash.

  4. AnotherAnon says:

    Apparently the organizers owed about 7-8 thousand in back fees, so the city wouldn’t issue the permit. Not sure if that was the only issue or not, but that’s all it was then Wilmington just shot itself in the foot yet again.

  5. cassandra_m says:

    These festivals are also ways for local artisans to make some cash, too. There are artists who make their living from selling their work via festivals like this and would not get much opportunity to show their work otherwise.

  6. Maria Evans says:

    Why not have it at the new park off of Concord Pike where we re-routed all of those roads for Astra Zeneca? The barn always has art exhibits and it’s a really beautiful place, I think it’s on enough ground, and they have parking and overflow parking. And, it’s visible, which would bring in more people.

  7. cassandra_m says:

    Wilmington just shot itself in the foot yet again

    How so?

    These new organizers:
    1. posted up a new location for a festival without having that locked down
    2. can’t get who their lawyer is straight
    3. has taken fees from people who want to show their stuff at that festival and not communicated to them about the status of the show
    4. generally shown themselves to be fairly incompetent here.

    If the city had just waived the money AND these people continued to be this hinky you’d still say they shot themselves in the foot for going along.

  8. nemski says:

    Wilmington shot itself in the foot yet again.

    Seriously, the city gov’t is just suppose to approve a festival that may or may not have paid its bills?

    And, well said, Cassandra.

  9. anon says:

    The city could easily have made a deal to negotiate payment of the back fees out of the revenue from the current festival (or the next two or three festivals). The organizers aren’t a big corporation; they are basically a kitchen-table operation. Incompetent is a little strong; just a little over their heads. Had Wilmington cut a deal with them, none of the items on your list would have been an issue. (fyi, I don’t know the organizers and only know what I read in the paper).

    But now Wilmington has once again told suburbanites they are not wanted in city limits.

  10. nemski says:

    anon, who would the city negotiate with since the festival doesn’t have a lawyer?

  11. anon says:

    anon, who would the city negotiate with since the festival doesn’t have a lawyer?

    Why would a lawyer be needed if both parties were cooperating in good faith?

    I understand there is a person who has been doing the organizing for years; calling that person would have been a good place to start the negotiations. Maybe they did and it broke down over something else – I don’t know.

    But from where I sit, it looks like Wilmington lost a great event and a great opportunity because they got all hard-assed and couldn’t figure out how to work out a fairly small back payment.

  12. cassandra_m says:

    Cormier’s article also notes that they couldn’t get St. Anthony’s in the Hills because they could not provide the right permits or the right insurance documentation.

    That maybe because they are incompetent or that maybe because they haven’t used the funds they’ve collected to pay for permits or insurance.

    Who is the City supposed to be negotiating with again?

    Maria’s idea to hold this in the 202 park is a good one — but I suspect that if they can’t provide permits or insurance docs to St. Anthony’s they won’t be able to provide it to the County, either.

  13. cassandra_m says:

    Actually, anon, the current festival organizers are relatively new. And this may be the source of the problems.

  14. anon says:

    You are right, Cass… here is some more info, also by Cormier. Seems like this thing should be reorganized as a not for profit.

  15. anon says:

    Sounds like their cash flow was interrupted the year it was cancelled due to weather, and they never really recovered. But it seems like it does well enough year to year otherwise.

  16. I don’t understand why the city of Wilmington should trust the organizers. They sound like grifters. I wish the city would take up the art fair itself but in these days of tight budgets I don’t see it happening. I just hope the artists can get their money back.

  17. pandora says:

    I live a block away from the Arts Festival, and while it’s a great event (I go every year)… I’m not sure how it “benefits” the city. BTW, the “Wilmington has once again told suburbanites they are not wanted in city limits” is just silly.

    As far as Maria’s suggestion concerning 202… how much parking is available? Besides parking, why would any location host an event that doesn’t pay its fees or purchase insurance?

  18. anon says:

    What a pile-on. I really don’t have a dog in this fight other than that I like the festival, I don’t trust Wilmington, and I find the rush to judgment on skimpy evidence uncharacteristic of this blog.

    There is a dispute about some partial back payments. The City says they owe $8500, the organizers say not that much. That does not translate into “doesn’t pay its bills.” Actually I am not so inclined to cast my trust 100% in the City of Wilmington based on a quote in a News Journal article.

    As far as insurance, all we know is that St. Anthony’s says they didn’t present insurance. As far as we know the festival has always been insured. Perhaps if Wilmington had granted the permit, vendors would not have been scared off and the money would be there this month for insurance and back fees.

    Read between the lines; it sounds like the City has it in for these folks for reasons unknown. And – d’ya think maybe St. Anthony’s is tight with the City?

  19. nemski says:

    LOL anon, don’t you see your rush to judgment? Wilmington is wrong, the organizers are right.

    I think the pile-on was due to your rush to judgment, not a blind faith in the City of Wilmington gov’t.

  20. anon says:

    It’s just basic skepticism and critical thinking, Nemski. Try to find some for this story in between giggle-fits.

  21. nemski says:

    Critical thinking . . . stop it . . . you’re going to make me wet my pants.

    No where in my post did I say that the City of Wilmington was right. You are the one that came forward and blamed them for the situation.

  22. anon says:

    No where in my post did I say that the City of Wilmington was right.

    Nowhere in my comment did I say you did. Read your thread – I was responding to the rush to judgment of “grifters,” “doesn’t pay its fees” and doesn’t “purchase insurance.”

    That’s pretty strong stuff if it is solely based on the “he said, she said” story in the News Journal so far.

  23. cassandra_m says:

    Permits cost money — if you’ve gotten them, you would have paid part of the fees.

    This event owes the City a few grand — that also counts as not paying its fees.

    If you’ve purchased insurance, you can provide proof of that insurance. Which they certainly did not to St. Anthony’s. And which is SOP for every group looking to conduct an event on public property or at a venue like St. Anthony’s.

    Not so much a rush to judgment as in some experience with how these things work.

  24. anon says:

    I think you will find these are very low-margin events in which the cash is laid out at the last minute based on incoming revenues. They aren’t sitting on a pot of money all year long waiting to pay next year’s fees.

    The festival is in some sense a partnership between the city and the organizer. If your venue puts out the word that the event is in jeopardy, then failure becomes self-fulfilling.

    The fact that the city chose to publicize its issues with the event shows that they wished to trigger the exodus of 2009 vendors and starve the event of cash to pay its obligations.

    Hey, maybe I am wrong about all this. We will see if the event just stays dead, or if there is some other group pulling strings that wants to take it over, a la Tom Gordon and Rockwood/Ice Cream Festival.

  25. Maria Evans says:

    pandora, they have the parking lot, and a grassy field next to the lot, and apparently some kind of other over flow lot either across 202 or on Foulk Rd and I think that they even have a shuttle to go back and forth. The barn is LEEDS certified, and basically a work of art in itself.

    Or is there a place for it around the Brandywine Zoo? What about that area along Brandywine Creek where Hercules is downtown? You can have artists in front of the building and all around the back where there are trees and grass and it used to be pretty nice. I think there’s even a parking garage…

  26. cassandra_m says:

    They are low-margin events. And as someone who has been part of a crew putting on low margin events, let me tell you that the folks who want their fees and permits and insurance and deposits don’t much care about your margins.

    And while we are at it — the CITY has little to do with what is going on right now. Wilmington State Parks is the entity that the Festival is dealing with and that is a STATE entity. It includes the Brandywine as well as Rockford and Fletcher Brown park and some others.

    So go back and respin this as the State shooting itself in the foot.

  27. anon says:

    Wilmington State Parks is the entity that the Festival is dealing with

    Good point – the plot thickens.

    I still say look beyond the he said/she said.

  28. anoni says:

    now its a conspiracy…

  29. FWIW, the Beast Who Browses But Doesn’t Buy is friends with some of those tie-dyed artisans from Arden. Two of the most highly-regarded (jury prize winners) told him that they no longer exhibit at the Arts Fest b/c the promoters have broken promises on such good faith matters as allowing artisans to keep the same space annually should they desire. They left b/c they didn’t feel the promoters could be trusted. And now it appears that artisans who paid their fees for space are bring ripped off by the promoters as well.

  30. geometals says:

    I am one of the participating artisans, or at I had been for the last 14 years. The “promoter” is not only inexperienced at running a show of this magnitude, but she lied to all of the approximately 225 artists that paid $360 for a booth space. First we weren`t told that the event was going to be moved to another location until a couple of months ago, then Janie Blanch (the promoter) told me on the phone that every thing was set at Saint Anthony in the Hills, when in fact that was a flat out lie. Bottom line, Wilmington loses what was a very nice family event and the artists are all out their money. This woman has stolen over $80,000 from the craftsmen and has dented my faith in humanity at a time when no one can afford to ripped off.

  31. An accepted artist for this years' show says:

    Hi there… I’m an exhibiting artist for this years BAF event.
    Let me try to clear a few things up for all. The park where the event is held is owned/operated by the State of Delaware. The festival owes the state approx 8500$ and there appear to be additional underlying issues which were cited by the park director when Cormier interviewed him for the August 17 (18?) article in the News Journal, but these issues were not disclosed to the NJ… and BAF declines comment… though there was a claim that BAF also owes the park for fees accrued in times past… Mr. Hanny, (?) former BAF director, claims this was not the case under his watch. but claims he was able to make money each year he ran the show… and the show is a for profit gig… This is the reason nobody in a public office is leaping to bail them out.. If they were a Not For Profit, things might be different.

    Next… the BAF announced their location change to St Anthony’s on their website in June, but not to the artists until mid August… via a letter announcing the acceptance of the artists into the event.

    The have never had a signed contract with St A’s .. but in their letter to the artists of August, they indicated that this was a done deal. The BAF claims there was a deal, have been publicizing it on their website since June and declared it a done deal in their August letter to accepted exhibitors…. (all apparently false claims in light of St Anthonys’ decision of last week)

    Now for finances…. The fee to exhibit is in the neighborhood ranging from 310$ to 340$, with the break being given to those exhibitors who pay for the following year during the prior years’ event….

    The August letter to exhibitors claims approximately 150 exhibitors will be exhibiting, which works out to approx 50k$ which the BAF has as up front money… So what was to keep the BAF from spending 8.5 k$ of their collected 50K$ to pay off the debt from last year and lease the park again…..

    The BAF artists agreement presumes that the festival will have an event, rain or shine and thus no refunds will be given… However, if no event occurs, are they potentially liable for recovery of fees and potentially damages/loss of income?? I’m not a lawyer, but……

    There is also the potential for criminal charges… However, again, I’m not a lawyer or a law enforcement official….. But seems possible.

    As a for-profit organization, they take the risk of losing money or the opportunity to make money. The August letter to artists says they will be heavily advertising the event. Now we have no location and any advertising will have to done at the last minute.

    My hope is that they will make the necessary financial arrangements to make the event happen. There might still be time to get it back into the Park by the river…… But the silence from the BAF is deafening and the BAF has not updated their website as of 8/31/09 and have not updated artists in writing received by this exhibitor to date.

  32. geometals says:

    To the other accepted artist,
    All the facts you stated are true. Isn`t it also true that this 48 year old event has now been single handedly mangled by Ms. Blanch? And why were the artists kept in the dark for so long? It wasn`t until I called the board of directors at Saint Anthony in the hills that I got the inside scoop about how Janie Blanch completely flaked out. She didn`t get any of the permits needed or requested and she lied to them as well in response to the questions they posed to her about the progress of getting insurance, police permits, etc. Anyone can go to a park with their camera and take pictures and then put those up on a web site, that does nothing to lend credibility that the event will be held their. I just received a phone from a drugged out sounding Blanch that she found a NEW location in Hockessin, De. for the show. At this very late stage in the game – it is over and done with. I would not go through the effort of loading up my van with my art work to go on any futile wild goose chase set up by this person. In case anyone wants to hound her, her # is 302-668-5839. If you are one of the artists, or you know someone who is, I suggest you call Officer Hall of the Delaware State Police at 302-573-2800. He handles cases fraud and theft and maybe we can get our money back even if she files for bankruptcy.

  33. An Accepted Artist at this years show says:

    9/1/09 – No website update, no phone, e-mail or snail mail communication from BAF representatives.

    I have to agree with geometals regarding the gross mismanagement of the event over the past couple years. Poor judgement seems to be in abundance there…. Example: BAF was going to hold the festival during the tropical storm of last year…. thankfully the state or the police stopped that. This is what a rain date is for…

    I have not seen any paid advertising to date and all other free web listings have the wrong location data. Has anyone else??

    The artists are still in the dark. I hope she will call Mr Cormier at the Wilmington NewsJournal if she actually secures a venue and all other press/broadcast media outlets. It would be the best possible free publicity possible…..

    I called the BAF contact number today, leaving a message requesting a return call; and e-mailed the BAF at their e-mail addy. No replies so far… and I wonder if there will be any…

    I can see a date in small claims court coming if there is breach of contract and no full refunds. I have plenty of time and patience to follow up on this.

    Perhaps a non-profit can acquire rights to the event and run it properly…. I know it is a huge job to organize such a venture, but a professional director could handle this. I doubt many are using those terms in positive association with this event….

  34. cassandra m says:

    Thanks for giving us more information. I really hope that the artists are trying to organize to pursue some legal means of getting your money back.

  35. An Accepted Artist at this years show says:

    No returned calls or e-mails in response to my calls and e-mails, no corrected website info….. 8 days until set-up day – no progress

  36. Todd Scott says:

    Just to be completely upfront, I am the public relations representative for the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival that is coming to Wilmington in a few weeks.

    I have been following this story and feel bad for both the artists and the public. The BAF seems like it was a very important part of the community.

    While we understand that no show is likely to “replace” the BAF, I just wanted to let all of you know that if you are a crafts lover or just want a fun family experience, we have more than 200 artists presenting their work at the Chase Center, September 25-27. I won’t “sell” the show here, but if anyone wants more information
    feel free to email me at todd@himmelrich.com.

  37. Delaware Dem says:

    Welcome Mr. Scott, and you are more than welcome to inform us of the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. Thanks!

  38. geometals and accepted artist,

    I hope you will keep us informed on what is going on for your pursuit of a refund. You can keep posting here in this thread or you can hit the “Got a Tip?” link at the top right hand corner and it will send email to all of us.

  39. Todd Scott says:

    Thank you

    More than 200 top artists and craft designers from across the nation are coming to Wilmington to showcase their work at the Sugarloaf Crafts Festival. The show is a lively marketplace filled with engaging demonstrations, gourmet specialty food, live music and entertaining performances and runs Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27, 2009 at the Chase Center on the Riverfront.

    You can get more details and ticket info at http://www.sugarloafcrafts.com

    For any of the artists who have been left “in the cold,” unfortnately we don’t have any space available for you to exhibit, but if you would like to attend the show free of charge, contact me (todd@himmelrich.com) and we’ll arrange for you to get free admission to the show.

  40. The BAF has a new site location posted upon their website at http://www.brandywineartsfestival.org. As geometals reported in their recent post, the location is Hockessin.

    However, faith in this current re-location will not lead the BAF to salvation of their currently tarnished reputation. I want to see a signed, notarized contract copy on their website and I hope to goodness that the BAF will have a mailing out to all exhibitors.

    These folks don’t seem to do e-mail very well and aren’t communicative unless it suits them or meets one of their needs. I am eagerly awaiting the proof in the pudding as to the BAF advertising scheme. There’s so much misinformation out there in cyberspace on the sites which allow free listings, that they will have to put forth a real effort to make the event happen.

    I’d like to contrast this to the group, Delaware By Hand, which is a non-profit organizarion which promotes artists, artisans, and a strong Delaware-based arts sector. I am a member of this group, which actually received some grant funding from the state. See http://www.delawarebyhand.org to view the website.

    They have a members show in Sussex County north of Rehoboth on September 26, 2009. I have received communication from them regarding this September show three or four times already. I plan on exhibiting. They might still be willing to take additional artists at their event. Of course, you’d have to join the group and pay their fee… But their membership fee is cheap and the space fee is cheap… So, if you were looking for another gig which might still have space…..

    Todd from Sugarloaf: Not to un-sell the your show here, but seeing as it is already full, what was your attendance at the Riverfront event last year – the reports I read (Sunshine Artist?) indicated that the booth prices were pricey and the event was lightly attended. If I juried in, how much is a 10 ft x 10 ft booth fee (based on this year’s pricing) and does the event charge admission? If so, how much?

    Thanks……

  41. Well, word on the street is that even if BAF has a home now, they do not currently have permits to hold the event (7 days until set-up by exhibitors.

    The property which matches the acreage cited on the BAF site matched St. Mary of the Assumption Church (approx 14 acres)… But no mention of the event on the church website. Look for another newspaper article in the NewsJournal on Saturday…9/5

    My basic look at the Sugarloaf site found…. And I thought the BAF show was expensive…… A 10×10 foot space (indoors albeit) costs $495.00. Add $70.00 if you desire 300 watts worth of electricity. Admission to the show is $8.00 (though you can save a buck by buying your admission online)

    In Sunshine Artist Magazine, the attendance is estimated for the 2008 show at 15,000 “source: gate” – I cannot cite the article I read, but I remember reading attendance figures of under 10,000

    Now you know why buying art gets so pricey – though I sell nothing but originals and try to keep my prices very reasonable. Self-serving plug ends here.

    And now we return you to your regularly scheduled political intrigues and discourse……

  42. I am correcting the location… It’s not St Mary of the Assumption Church’s property. It is (based on the NewsJournal Article) the Walker Farm property across the street…… try this link

    http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20090904/NEWS/90904076/Third+site+might+be+charm+for+arts+fest

  43. Todd Scott says:

    My honesty will sound defensive, but I assure you I am not taking exception to anything that was previously posted…

    You’re correct with the booth prices, but I would just add that Sugarloaf has not significantly raised its booth prices for more than five years.

    As for the attendance last year, we had approximately 10,000 for weekend, which was great considering:

    it was the first time the show was held in Wilmington,
    the remenants of a tropical storm made it rain all weekend,
    the stock market dropped 500 points,
    and Congress had just refused to bail out the major banks…

    So not a bad effort. And again, not trying to sell anyone on the show. I just thought if you were looking for a nice place to see some crafts and have some family fun, we’ve got an option for you.

    And the offer still stands for any of the artists that want to see the show. Contact me directly and I will be happy to make arragements for you to check out the show free of charge.

  44. anon says:

    Word is that the Hockessin site is a no-go and the event is now cancelled. Hopefully the artists can get a lawyer to look into this…

  45. That’s bad news anon. I’m not sure if people were still thinking of going with all the well-publicized problems with the BAF. I just hope the artists can recover their money.

  46. AnotherAnon says:

    Is there any indication the money will not be returned after the cancellation of the event? If not then legal threats and accusations of theft are a little premature.

  47. Another anon: Blanch indicated to the press that all the funds were spent on ‘…. website fees and advertising’ – see the Brandywine Community News article and the NewsJournal articles of 9/8. BTW how do you spend 50k on a static website which rarely gets updated and no ads (please if you know of ads placed get in touch with me – see e-mail addy below)

    I was contacted Sunday while at my day job. I told the BAF person that before I committed to the show, I wanted to know how many other artists were doing the show and how they were planning to make good on the advertising plan announced in the mid-august letter to accepted artists and artisans. I emphasized that I was willing to do the show once they supplied the information…

    The BAF person said they were going to give admission passes to local radio stations – nothing more. They whined about how much money they had lost…. (Doing what??) I told them to call back when they had answers to my questions and to count me as undecided, but willing if they could answer those simple questions.

    They have failed to respond to 4 e-mails now and several phone calls. None of my e-mails bounced, but Ms. Blanch indicated to a reporter that she had been unable to access the account or perhaps that the e-mails were lost (I forget….)

    I have contacted the Delaware Attorney Generals’ Office and left my information for them to contact me. I will also likely be filing a small claims complaint in the very near future so Ms. Blanch needs to secure some representation and be paying for it out of her own funds. I believe the wheels of justice (criminal and civil) have been set in motion.

    However, I wouldn’t put it past the BAF to be unable to provide an accounting of their financial transactions. But, if I have to, I will subpoena their bank records and business records. My suspicion is that the BAF was paying their personnel (IMO likely the Blanch family predominantly) on a regular basis.

    The only advertising I ever saw was a Sunshine Artist listing which is not an ad, only a paid listing.. Sunshine Artist has lots of nice professionally created ads from other smaller festivals… what’s their problem??? They collected in excess of $50k from the artists in booth fees based on 150 participants. There was a refund cut-off date and the August letter to artists was past that date. The August letter indicated 150 artists/artisans were on board. They promised a big advertising program… Where????

    Since they likely took in $50 K prior to June (my check was cashed May 16th, I believe), how is it that they could not pay the State Park past due fees and get on with the program??? IMO, I think that it is possible that after the State Park rejected them, they either passively or by plan were seeking to pull the plug on the event..

    You have to wonder if they pulled 20,000 people at 6$/person for admission (of course this would require advertising), wouldn’t this have generated an additional $120,000 in revenue? Even 10,000 people would have pulled in $60,000 in revenue from the gate itself. You have to think this would have covered permits, security, shuttle busses, rentals, sanitation, and Park Fees….

    Contrast that with the Delaware by Hand members show in Sussex Co. coming up at the end of the month… They have placesd paid ads in several Sussex publications, sent out press releases, public radio announcements, printed signs and generally have communicated well with both the public and their members… And this all for an event with 50 or less artists (so far).. BTW, they will still take last minute exhibitors. See http://www.delawarebyhand.org for further info

    I have to agree about the artists being painted with the failure brush. Likely, if you got the registered, paid artists together, you’d find that the majority were willing to show up if they could pull their permits together. Instead, Janie pulled the plug on the very first business day after the holiday…

    If artists have questions or want to kvetch, contact me at
    marks-art@earthlink.net