Organizer of first Avon Art Festival over Labor Day weekend discusses safe event planning in pandemic
The Avon Art Festival, a first-run event coming to town Saturday, Sept. 5 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday Sept. 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will bring local and regional artists to Nottingham Park.
“Our mission is to connect the artists with the general public to gain appreciation for local arts and crafts,” said Steve Wallis, the founding director of Colorado Events, the nonprofit organizing the event.
As the event’s organizer, Wallis had been hoping to bring an event to the Vail Valley for a while. Though he’s based on the Front Range now, he used to own a condo at Sunridge in Avon.
“I’m a pretty big skiier, and I love the Vail Valley in general,” he said. “I’ve had my eye on Nottingham Park for an arts and crafts fair for a number of years now.”
He started working on event permits with the Town of Avon last November. Wallis said Avon was already looking to expand its local events offerings in outdoor public spaces around town before the pandemic hit, so the timing worked out well. As the pandemic changed organizers’ plans, Wallis was able to adapt the event format to best keep all guests and staff safe.
When Gov. Jared Polis reintroduced public events, his office also issued a 3-page document with COVID-19 safety guidelines for event organizers. The Avon Arts Festival will follow all of those protocols, including placing handwashing and sanitizing stations around the venue, spaced out vendor booths and a maximum of 175 shoppers at a time.
There will also be one-way pedestrian traffic and one entry and exit point. Because the event is an outdoor shopping experience, people will be in-and-out of the fenced-off vendor area.
“The guidelines that are set forth, they work for small to medium sized events,” he said. “We have a really good collection of artists, and Nottingham Park is the perfect venue.”
Arts fairs and festivals in the Vail Valley, in a typical summer, can be overshadowed by larger events, particularly those at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and the Vilar Performing Arts Center. On Labor Day weekend, the annual Gourmet on Gore food tasting and the Vail Jazz Party typically draw the most people out to Vail.
Gourmet on Gore was canceled and Vail Jazz is hosting limited outdoor concerts while focusing on its virtual Interludes series instead of a full Party; other Colorado Labor Day weekend events that compete with Vail Valley offerings also aren’t happening in their traditional capacities. As such, the new Avon Art Festival is able to gain more attention and hopefully generate more income for the vendors.
“For a lot of them, this is their livelihood. It seems like small businesses, arts & culture, they’ve all taken a really hard year this year,” Wallis said.
That same paradigm has been true for the other arts events and festivals hosted here this summer, including Art on the Rockies, the Vail Fine Arts Festival and other gallery events and artist meet-and-greets around town. These festivals are ultra-important to the creators that participate in them, and limited local event offerings, Wallis hopes, will encourage more people to come out and support their work.
“I think it’s going to be a really good first-year event,” he said.
Most of the fairs Colorado Events organizes take place in Denver and Boulder, but the company has hosted a few events in mountain towns this summer, including Estes Park and Crested Butte. The company has urban markets, craft sales and holiday markets planned through Decmeber. Wallis thinks his company may be putting on the greatest number of events in the state right now.
“The events business was faced with the same thing that a lot of businesses were faced with: adapt to the new changes or you don’t operate. I’ve been all about making the necessary changes and trying to keep on keeping on,” he said.
To that front, Wallis is happy that he’s been able to stay operational and provide a source of income to the artists and artisans that sell their work at his events.
“Everybody’s down on some level, but I’d rather be down than out.”
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