Consider this a requiem for a Grand Dame. Or perhaps it will be a clarion call.
Passing through the 25 booths for 20 artists that comprised this year’s 51st Annual Salado Art Fair was awkward, embarrassing and painful on many levels. It is doubtful that more than 1,000 people passed through the gates of the Fair this year.
This is not to kick the Chamber of Commerce while it is down, but to perhaps bring some tough, fair and critical thinking to a situation that has clearly grown (by that, we mean shrunk) beyond redemption.
First, this failure did not happen overnight. To get to this point of failure has been the result of many years of decline. Some years the decline was hardly discernible; others, it was drastic and shocking.
Second, no single cause has resulted in this failure. To get to this point of failure has been the result of a series of contributing factors, some of which could have been controlled by the sponsoring Chamber, but many others were far beyond the control or influence of the Chamber.
Third, the failure is not any one person’s or any single group’s fault. The fault lies with all of us as a community.
To understand the nature of this failure, one should first know some of the history of the Salado Art Fair.
The front page of the first Salado Village Voice under the new ownership of the Fleischer family (March 1988) announced that the Art Fair was full, that all 250 booths had been paid for some five months before the event.
At that time, the Art Fair was the chief fundraiser for the Chamber of Commerce, as well as for many auxiliary groups in Salado. At one time, the Art Fair netted $40,000+ for the Chamber of Commerce annually. Lions sold barbecue and a ton of it. They had a dedicated team to smoke briskets (20 or more of them some years) and others to feed the lines of people under the pavilion. Rotary carted visitors all over town for donations and sponsorships. Ladies Auxiliary sold tickets for a handmade quilt and operated the ticket booths for the Chamber. The Library sold old books under a tent. Every group was invited to sell something. Some raised funds by helping artists set up and tear down. It was truly a community event.
It was also a statewide event, known as perhaps the best small town art show in the State of Texas. It was strictly juried to eliminate mass-produced products. People came from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio each year, filling the rooms of the Village.
Contrast that to 25 booths (for 20 artists) and attendance that we think did not surpass 700 over both days.
The Grand Dame has become a tragic southern character in a Tennessee Williams play, clutching at her last string of pearls and fancying herself as part of “society.”
She is no longer the Art Fair. She is not even an art show, to be frank. Continuing to call her such only damages the fond memories of her not-so-distant past.
It is beyond time for one of two things to happen.
Turn the Art Fair over to a professional developer. Remove the Chamber from the picture and put it in the hands of a company with the skill set to put on a quality, successful show that will benefit the community as a whole.
In lieu of that, the Chamber should allow the Grand Dame to die with at least a shred of grace she once had.