By JESSE BURKHARDT
A blooming White Salmon tradition is in danger of being canceled this year due to a combination of fewer volunteers and the downturn in the economy.
For the past four years, the White Salmon Arts Council has organized and produced the "Nights in White Salmon/Art & Wine Fusion" downtown festival in July. Expenses for the popular event -- which has drawn hundreds of visitors and sparked a spike in sales for downtown merchants -- have been covered thanks to the generosity of a few business sponsors.
This year, however, the economic climate has changed for the worse, and financial sponsorships have largely dried up.
"In the past, we've had real good luck from sponsors like the banks, Realtors, and title companies," said Tim Middaugh, president of the White Salmon Arts Council. "But the last time we did inquires, they are just not in a position to do that. The generosity is still there, but they are not able to provide funding as in the past, and that's understandable."
Middaugh said the event costs roughly $4,500 to produce.
Also, fewer volunteers have signed on to help with the many tasks involved in putting on a successful event. According to Middaugh, a total of about 25 volunteers are needed to make everything work. So far, about half of that number have offered to help out.
With these realities in mind, the White Salmon Arts Council's board members have decided that unless there are more pledges of financial help and additional volunteers stepping up, the Art & Wine Fusion will be canceled this year.
"We're in flux right now. It's a neat event, but we're not sure how it will come together this year," Middaugh said. "It has been operated kind of on a shoestring, and with the generosity of local businesses helping out."
The board has set a March 15 deadline for making a final decision on whether there is enough support to justify trying to proceed with the Art & Wine Fusion festival this year. This year's event had tentatively been scheduled for Saturday, July 18, from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
Besides the funding assistance, the council is specifically seeking volunteers to help in several key areas, including coordinating the entertainment, advertising, wineries, merchants, artists, sponsors, etc.
Lloyd DeKay, vice president of the Arts Council, said at least one local resident has contacted the council to suggest that it would be "frivolous" to hold a festive event during these dire economic times.
DeKay said he disagreed with that approach.
"If we cancel this event, I personally fear we will lose the significant momentum and public following we have built up in the past four years," DeKay said. "It also denies our artists and community of direct economic benefits and exposure opportunities that they need and rely on, especially this year."
"It pays for itself and has kind of a unifying effect on the community," Middaugh said. "It's kind of an `open house' for the downtown."
Changes have been planned for this summer, in what would be the fifth year of the downtown celebration.
In addition to wine tastings in merchant's shops, some other ideas have been under consideration:
Closing Jewett Boulevard to vehicular traffic and inviting Arts Council members to set up booths to display/sell their work;
Setting up an entertainment stage and restricted access wine/beer garden with a "people's choice" wine tasting event; and
Using a river theme with a "Krazy Boat Parade" with entries such as "kayaks on skateboards" and slalom races along Jewett.
Despite the interesting ideas, however, the show may simply not go on this year.
"In the final analysis, if the funding is not there and the volunteers are not there, we can't do it," Middaugh said.
Middaugh said those interested in making the 2009 Art & Wine Fusion a reality can call 493-4546 or (509) 637-2737.