ArtFest cancellation a loss for Pullman artists

With COVID-19, ArtFest organizers focus on making next year’s better instead of rescheduling



A street musician duo takes part in the 2016 Pullman ArtWalk, which has been renamed ArtFest, by performing live music downtown.

ZACH GOFF, Evergreen reporter

This year’s annual ArtFest was canceled due to Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order. The event was scheduled to take place at Neill Public Library and give artists from various mediums and backgrounds a space to showcase their work for the community.

Jeri Harris, Pullman Arts Commission chairperson, said the process of canceling an event of this scale varies in difficulty depending on what phase the project is in.

The Pullman Arts Commission planned to spend around $30,000 on the event. Harris said most of the money would have gone toward advertising. After the stay-at-home order, the organization returned the grant because the money could not be used for ArtFest.

“We were at the beginning stages of finalizing a lot of things when we found out we needed to cancel it,” Harris said. “We were fortunate we didn’t have to do much for it.”

Joanna Bailey, Neill Public Library director, helps the Pullman Arts Commission produce the event. For her, it is a great way to expose people to the library in a new way. As the liaison department for Pullman Arts Commission, the library helps deal with administration work and helping in any capacity it can.

The first year that the Arts Commission held a street fair as a component of ArtFest was 2018, Bailey said. It coincided with the city’s 150th anniversary. The event had to re-brand last year, changing the name from ArtWalk to ArtFest.

“[The change was] because you couldn’t really walk it anymore,” Bailey said.

ArtFest hosted over 2,000 people in 2019 and 2018 respectively, giving artists a platform to showcase their work and help the local community come together and flourish. Regional Theatre of the Palouse participates every year by hosting some of the artwork in their lobby or performing during the festival weekend.

RTOP Executive Director John Rich said ArtFest is an important staple in the community that helps share the arts with the people of the Palouse.

“ArtFest is really just as important as any of the other creative arts that [RTOP] deals with daily,” Rich said.

There is not a plan to reschedule ArtFest for later this year. Instead, the members of the Pullman Arts Commission are focusing on making next year’s ArtFest better than ever and preparing for the Lentil Festival that will take place in mid-August, Harris said.

“Because we are an outside event, we have a very small window and we didn’t want it too close to Lentil Festival in August,” Harris said. “They both take a lot of energy and the chamber does help us a lot with ArtFest. And, of course, they run all of Lentil Festival.”

The mandated cancellation of the festival has greatly affected artists, J. Michael Short said. Short is a Pullman native and photographer who participated in ArtFest in 2019. It was his first time showcasing his artwork since moving back to the Palouse five years ago, he said.

“I’ve always grown up comparing Pullman and Moscow. Moscow has an ArtWalk that’s been successful which is always great and wonderful. I saw that happening with ArtFest in Pullman,” Short said. “Pullman is really lagging behind, say, Moscow. It boosts the community as a whole and it helps tie together the university community with the rest of the community.”

The Pullman Arts Commission worked hard to bring more adult activities to the festival for this year as well as potentially getting WSU faculty to perform, Harris said. The plan is to incorporate these ideas into ArtFest 2021.

“It’s just one of the many things that had to be put on hold because of the epidemic,” Rich said.