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City saved the day by taking over Arts Festival

It didn’t take long for Mayor Shane Bemis to decide the city should take over the Gresham Arts Festival, formerly known as the Gresham Art Walk.

When Art Walk chairwoman Judy Han sent out a mass email Jan. 8 that she was retiring from producing the popular festival and the event would be canceled, Bemis announced the following day the city would sponsor the festival.

The festival features more than 140 artists from the Pacific Northwest from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 19, as well as music, food and activities in Historic Downtown Gresham. (See details about the festival on Page 10A of today’s Outlook.)

Han started the festival 12 years ago and had run it year after year with about 10 volunteers, but she was worn out because as the festival grew, it had become a huge job. The mayor said Han had told him earlier she was getting tired and planned to retire, but he talked her into running it for one more year, so it wasn’t a great surprise when he learned she planned to stop.

“A year ago, the last year, Judy had pretty much said she was done,” he said. “And I said, ‘No, you can’t be done. It’s our signature event, and nothing else brings as many people to town.’

“She and I had a heart to heart, and she gave it that last year, and I thought we were at a place the organization could continue. So I got a blanket email like everyone else and decided we would pick it up.”

Bemis said he’s glad he made the quick decision to keep the festival going.

“For a couple of years we knew it was asking a lot of volunteers to do that, and Judy and her group have done it for 10 solid years,” he said. “But it’s gotten so big and popular that somebody had to step up and take it over.”

The annual festival, the city’s signature event, draws thousands of visitors to Gresham every year, Bemis said.

“What I didn’t want to have happen was for it to go the way of some other festivals that just dissipated out and interest waned,” he said. “It’s a really unique opportunity to bring people here — over 10,000 — who come back and shop and get exposed to one of the best parts of the city we all know and love.”

Changing from volunteer to city leadership wasn’t too difficult a task, since city employee Jill Bradley had been a key volunteer for years with the festival, the mayor said.

“Jill took over everything, and it should go without skipping a beat,” he said. “The artisans are all signed up and continue to sign up, and the cast of volunteers is spread more widely in the community.”

But the city’s taking over the festival won’t cost taxpayers, Bemis said, and it hasn’t had a great impact on city staff.

“Jill is the point person, but we’ve spread it throughout the organization,” he said, adding that costs for the festival will be recouped through fees from artisans and corporate sponsorships.



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