by Kirby Lindsay
On Wednesday, February 17, from 5p – 7p at The Ballroom (456 North 36th), the Fremont Chamber of Commerce (FCC) awaits every ambulatory Fremonster to the Fremont Fair Open House. For as of February 1, the Fremont Chamber became producers of the fabulously funky, frequently freaky and forever Fremont Street Fair.
Ground on Which It Grew
In 1972, a community celebration took place that, in 1974, became a fundraiser for the Fremont Public Association (F.P.A.). The homegrown social service agency helped out, according to the Solid Ground website, “one of Seattle’s most economically devastated neighborhoods.” The emergency food bank, clothing bank and employment program assisted marginalized people – most of whom, at that time, were very local.
I’m too young (I brag) to remember the first years of the F.P.A. I heard stories, including the smell of rotten potatoes that one-time lingered over the neighborhood when the food bank failed to fully distribute an outrageously generous donation. As the FPA moved around, from cheap rental to cheaper rental, I recall the offices at 3601 Fremont Avenue North location and the lines of people that waited for the food bank there.
The F.P.A. grew well, and gained a home of its own – in Wallingford. The agency expanded, from aiding a neighborhood to people city-wide, then county-wide and now state-wide, and the name changed to better reflect the broader mission, to become Solid Ground.
“Solid Ground has produced this event for several decades as a way to involve folks in building a better community,” said its Executive Director Cheryl Cobbs through a press release, “while also directly giving back to the neighborhood where we resided.”
Give Until It Hurts
“We’re relieved at not being at a place where we need to put it on,” admitted Mike Buchman, Solid Ground Communications Manager. “The connection between us and the event has grown more distant,” Buchman said, “spending resources on it doesn’t make sense.”
Without the Fair, Solid Ground staff can focus on helping homeless people and breaking the cycle of poverty – instead of booking bands. Granted, they haven’t been that hands-on in years but the Community Giving Stations (donation boxes once posted at Fair ‘entrances’) “had grown into a stable $20,000 – $30,000 revenue stream,” Buchman explained.
“The effort fell to a Volunteer Coordinator,” he described. The part-time staff person had to enlist 300+ volunteers to tend to the boxes. Last year their newest, energetic and visionary coordinator found herself tied to nothing but the Fair for six months. It created a “dead time” for the agency and “that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Buchman revealed.
“It’s not the money that became the real issue,” Buchman insisted, “It’s a really difficult environment to get our message across.” Fair programs, stage announcers, and stickers proclaimed the Solid Ground message but, as Buchman acknowledged, “The media would cover naked bicyclists,” and people attended only to shop, eat and gape.
“We knew the [Fremont] Chamber had an interest in being more involved,” Buchman explained. If Solid Ground had to drop the event, they decided “it’s got to be Fremont people doing it,” and, according to Buchman, the Chamber sits “inside the bull’s eye.” Also, the Chamber will donate a portion of funds raised by the Fair to Solid Ground, and the Fair can remain “a way to continue supporting programs that benefit low income people.”
The character of Fremont comes from its characters (you know who you are) and for the Fair to reflect Fremont, every Fremonster who’s ever attended, sold, sung, or stubbornly refused to stick around now has a chance to tell the Chamber why. For those entirely incapable of going to The Ballroom on February 17, please e-mail, or speak in person, to FCC Executive Director Jessica Vets.
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.