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To Create A ‘Better’ Fremont Solstice Fair

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 8 June 2016

 

The Fremont Fair returns for the weekend of June 17th - 19th, 2016, with 300+ vendors.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

The Fremont Fair returns for the weekend of June 17th – 19th, 2016, with 300+ vendors. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

For Fremont, June 17th – 19th is Solstice Weekend, a showcase of more art in one place than most minds can comprehend.  “Everything about the Solstice is art,” observed Phil Megenhardt of Bold Hat Productions, “It’s a huge art show.”  As went on to explain, “this community has layers,” and so does its art at the Fremont Fair.

Megenhardt acknowledged that the Solstice art comes in a variety of forms and alternative expressions, using more creative interpretations over traditional mediums.  “The multiple experiences you will have, in four city blocks,” he said, “It can be a lifetime of memories.”  Ultimately, the Fremont Solstice Fair, which Bold Hat produces (where Megenhardt serves as Creative Director) reflects the community from which it sprung.

For 2016, our community will see changes to the Fair, another example of how it reflects our community:  a neighborhood known for flexibility in its presentation, and stubborn determination to always find some funky kinds of fun.

For 2016, the main stage will move one block west, to Canal St on N 35th St.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

For 2016, the main stage will move one block west, to Canal St on N 35th St. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

Make It ‘Better’

Megenhardt did acknowledge a big, ground-quaking change to the Fremont Street Fair that seems to be going largely unnoticed – the name has changed.  “We’re using the language of the people,” he explained.  Throughout the year, Bold Hat does outreach to Fremont business owners, residents, volunteers, vendors and sponsors of the Fair, Fremont Oktoberfest, the Seattle Scotch & Beer Festival, and other events it produces, and Megenhardt has, over and over, found that while people may not know what he means when he says ‘Fremont Fair’, they instantly recognize the Fremont Solstice – whether they think of it in terms of vendor booths, live music, the Fremont Arts Council Solstice Parade, the Seattle Art Car Blowout, the Solstice Cyclists, or another aspect.

Bold Hat has made a few other changes to this year’s Fair.  For the last two years, they dramatically upgraded the bands booked to play, on a stage inside a gated, ticketed area.  “It worked,” Megenhardt reported, “but we asked, as we always do, ‘how can it be even better?’”  Every year, Bold Hat staffers talk about ways to make their events, particularly the 44th Annual Fremont Fair, more attractive, more financially sustainable, more fun and less work.

Local artist Vikram Madan will be returning as a vendor to the 2016 Fremont Fair.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

Local artist Vikram Madan will be returning as a vendor to the 2016 Fremont Fair. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

The answer for this year’s Solstice Music Festival?  Make it free!

“We redesigned the main stage beer garden,” Megenhardt said.  They’ve shifted the main stage one block west on N 35th St, and given it capacity for 3,000 people, who can come in to drink, or listen to music, or both.  Those drinking can choose to spend $5 a beer, or $20 for a wrist-band that gets them into dedicated lines that move along faster.  There will also be “a wee space” Megenhardt acknowledged, for those under 21, to hear the music.  The important thing is that everyone can come to hear a great line up of musical talents – local and national – for free.

“This is a three-day festival,” Megenhardt observed about the Fair, in general, “not an hour-long parade.”  Bold Hat staffers work to find something for everyone to enjoy, in between shopping at 300+ vendor booths, the backbone of the Fair since 1971, when it started as two rows of tables that showcased area non-profits and businesses.

“Right now, I’m the steward of this event,” Megenhardt observed, “and I want to make sure it’s around for another 40 years.”  The Fair model Bold Hat inherited, in 2010, wasn’t sustainable, and Megenhardt continues to look for ways to make it work, as a benefit to our community and a fundraiser for the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and its many philanthropic/community projects.

Some traditions will always be a part of the Fremont Fair, particularly the Fremont Baptist Church Orange Booth, serving free lemonade and water.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

Some traditions will always be a part of the Fremont Fair, particularly the Fremont Baptist Church Orange Booth, serving free lemonade and water. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

Vendors In Peril

This has become more difficult since last year, when the City of Seattle dramatically changed its public events permit and fee structure.  Increases in the fees effectively erased any money the Fair raised for the Chamber over the last few year, making sustainability more of a challenge – and possibly putting the Fair’s future in doubt.

The increase raised costs specifically to the vendors.  “These will always be a major part of the Fair,” Megenhardt insisted, “Shopping is still our first thing.  80% of the budget comes from the vendors.”  For small, independent artists, businesses and non-profits, vendor fees can be breath-taking, and bank breaking, even when, “we haven’t increased the vendor fees,” Megenhardt said.  However, “we passed on the $20 fee added to vendors by the City for Special Events,” he acknowledged.

Bold Hat has tried to work with vendors, providing a marketing toolbox, encouraging pre-promotion and pushing them to raise awareness among their potential audience.  The Fair does provide vendors with great opportunities for customer engagement and relationship building.  Still, Megenhardt noted that where vendor booth spaces used to sell-out, twenty years ago, in January, they now close on June 1st.  Today, many great handicraft and creative product manufacturers use Etsy, Facebook, and other internet tools to reach customers, instead of street fairs.  “How many vendors are choosing not to display,” at fairs and festivals, Megenhardt asked, “because of the fees?  I think that story hasn’t been told yet.”

On June 17th, Tableau Presents the Solstice Social Good Kick-Off.

On June 17th, Tableau Presents the Solstice Social Good Kick-Off.

Social Good

A new addition coming to the Fair, that will go largely unnoticed by the majority of the Solstice audience, is the addition of a Friday event called the ‘Solstice Social Good Kick-Off’.  “It’s a new leg to the stool,” Megenhardt admitted.

“What we have are a lot of tech companies,” and other businesses, “that don’t know how to interact with a naked parade,” Megenhardt said about the Fremont community.  Over the last decade, Fremont businesses that don’t sell retail or food, increasingly treat Solstice Weekend as a black hole – they shut down early on Friday, and return to work on Monday, oblivious as to the celebration, and what it offered.

The Solstice Social Good gathering will engage businesses in the weekend, and expose its roots as a fundraising tool.  For many, many years, the Fair raised vital capital for the Fremont Public Association, to cloth and feed the needy here.  Today, Fremont, for the most part, enjoys economic equanimity, and the Solstice Social Good is a chance to celebrate the ways area businesses contribute to philanthropic efforts, here and around the world.  “We can talk about what good things businesses are doing to change the world,” Megenhardt acknowledged, “they are up to some cool stuff!”

The Fremont Rotary Bouncy Houses will return to the 2016 Fremont Fair, relocated to the Tableau parking lot near the Dino Topiaries.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

The Fremont Rotary Bouncy Houses will return to the 2016 Fremont Fair, relocated to the Tableau parking lot near the Dino Topiaries. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

“All ships rise at the Solstice,” Megenhardt said.  It is true.  Fremont businesses, non-profits and artists have benefitted from this weekend, and how it makes the Center of the Universe shine.  “The economic impact for this neighborhood, celebrating Fremont, is huge,” Megenhardt observed, “keeping us on the global map.”

Based on a model Megenhardt encountered at the SxSW Festival, Solstice Social Good provides a forum for business people looking for acknowledgment, encouragement and applause for what they’ve done, and what they want to do.  “These businesses employ people, provide a product and do good,” Megenhardt observed, “This puts the cherry on top of the Solstice, by talking about what this neighborhood is doing.”

Fremont Fair 2016

The Fremont Fair began as a way to bring our community together to share resources and creative ways to solve problems.  Every year the event grows and shifts, along with the community it surrounds and celebrates.

The Seattle Art Cars also return to the 2016 Fremont Fair, displayed on the upper parking lot of the Burke Building.

The Seattle Art Cars also return to the 2016 Fremont Fair, displayed on the upper parking lot of the Burke Building.

Please, if you aren’t already involved in one of the million of efforts going into putting on Solstice Weekend, consider attending (or spreading the word,) about:

On June 18th, at 3p, the Fremont Arts Council bring the Solstice Parade back to Fremont's streets.  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

On June 18th, at 3p, the Fremont Arts Council bring the Solstice Parade back to Fremont’s streets. Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

We don’t celebrate the Solstice Weekend in a small way.  Most Fremonsters have their own Fair traditions, from Saturday morning mimosas to volunteering in the Orange Booth.

“Free music draws people,” Megenhardt said, as do notorious painted cyclists, a legendary Solstice Parade, crowd-pleasing Art Cars, unpredictable street performers, heart-warming puppy paraders, delectable food booths, and eclectic craft/art vendors.  “If you want to have a complete life,” Megenhardt observed, “at the end of your days, you have to have come.  Did I see the Taj Mahal?  Did I fulfill my purpose?  Did I go to the Fremont Solstice?”

The answer must be an unequivocal, and enthusiastic, ‘YES!!’

 

 


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©2016 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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