ELY – Continuing public health guidelines are forcing Ely Chamber of Commerce officials to downsize the Blueberry/ Art Festival this year, and local nonprofits are not too excited about the new …
ELY – Continuing public health guidelines are forcing Ely Chamber of Commerce officials to downsize the Blueberry/ Art Festival this year, and local nonprofits are not too excited about the new Experience Ely Expo format.
The Experience Ely Expo, designed to run in conjunction with the Chamber’s two main arts and crafts festivals, Blueberry/Art Festival in July and Harvest Moon Festival in September, was first announced in late 2019, but the new format was put on the shelf last year when the festivals were canceled because of COVID-19.
“We didn’t receive as many applications as we thought there would be,” said Chamber Executive Director Eva Sebesta. “I think last year, many of the nonprofits were hit very hard with any level of fundraising, especially if they didn’t have a membership base that paid dues or supported the organization in other ways.”
She said just ten area nonprofits applied to be part of the Chamber’s festivals this year. She said she had figured on twice that number, based on prior participation, when revamping the festival grounds layout.
Festival organizers are in the midst of again re-organizing the Whiteside Park venue to accommodate the ongoing State of Minnesota’s public health and social distance guidelines due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic. “We are decreasing the number of vendors as well as the number of Expo participants, to follow those state guidelines,” Sebesta said. “Even if things do switch at a later date, we are still going with the new model we are creating.”
She said the Blueberry /Art Festival and Experience Ely Expo will be capped at a total of 220 vendors this year, down from a high of 300 vendors prior to 2019.
“We are going to put an additional six feet between each of the vendors, which is decreasing our space,” Sebesta said.
Festival goers can also expect a reduction in the number of food vendors this year as that area of the park is also spread out.
“We also have to modify the way the food court is laid out. That is always a huge congestion point,” she said. “We are trying to make sure we have a safe event, and we are giving vendors and our visitors the space to be safe.”
The Chamber’s removal of the nonprofit category for participation in the city’s general festivals affected more than a dozen local organizations that have relied on the Blueberry/Art Festival and Harvest Moon Festival for a large portion of their annual fundraising efforts.
“Creating space in the Blueberry/Art Festival was extremely challenging,” Sebesta said earlier this year. “We literally had outgrown Whiteside Park. We originally had 303 booth spaces, and as of 2019 we were down to about 290 usable spaces.”
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 in 2019.
The Chamber’s answer was to develop the new nonprofit expo event that offers nonprofits the opportunity to purchase booth space in a separate area of Whiteside Park during the Blueberry/Art Festival, July 23-25, and/or the Harvest Moon Festival Sept. 10-12.
The creation of the separate space for the Experience Ely Expo on the southern side of Whiteside Park resulted in the discontinuation of the children’s attractions, according to Sebesta.
“We remapped the southern half of the park and literally used every square inch,” she said.
To take part in the Experience Ely Expo, organizations must fit into one of the following categories: Sport and Recreation, Art and Craft, First Responder, Attractions and Museum, or Service. Qualifying organizations can promote the organization itself, an event it hosts, or its activities.
Nonprofits remaining in the festival as part of the food court, according to the chamber, include the Ely Fire Department, Ely Jaycees, and the Ely Kiwanis Club.
“The Ely Hoop Club will continue to support the festival with trash and recycling efforts,” Sebesta said.
The Experience Ely Expo has its own policies designed to better fit to the needs of the nonprofits.
“We created the Experience Ely Expo as an opportunity to include nonprofits in Whiteside Park during the two festivals while freeing them from the constraints of policies designed specifically for our art and craft festivals,” Sebesta said.
The new Experience Ely Expo policies and guidelines will bring year-to-year turnover, enabling more nonprofit organizations a chance at participating from year to year.
“Just because a nonprofit is in the festival in 2021 does not guarantee they will be in one of the 2022 expos,” she explained. “Every year we will have a jury process to fill booth spaces. We have dozens of amazing nonprofits representing countless activities, events, and causes. Every qualifying nonprofit deserves the opportunity to participate in one or both of the expos if they choose to do so.”
“We have our COVID-19 Preparedness Plans in place and will continue to monitor all state and CDC guidelines, making modifications as needed.”