Transitions, Part 3: Festival Noir, The End

If you've sneaked a look at the Festival Noir website, you already know the end of this story, but not how we got there. After last year's disappointing turnout in both customers and number of top quality artists, I began thinking we might not make it to our 15th anniversary year. As I participated in my own shows and festivals this year, it became clear that the downturn in numbers of customers wasn't just isolated to the New England area. When I talked about Festival Noir with African American artists I met at those shows, I got mostly lukewarm responses (although most seemed interested enough to take the printed information--thinking about a December show while sweltering in June or July heat is a stretch, I realize!).

As in years past, the Festival Noir "Early Application Deadline" was the last Friday in September. On that date, we had three, count them on one hand, and have two fingers left over, three applications! This was a new low. Even worse; one of the three was someone who'd applied online the previous year, but never completed his application and never responded to our many efforts to contact him. None of the artists I'd spoken with had applied. No other new artists had applied. My partner had received no mail-in applications. The outlook was dim, to say the least.

Usually, we would have a few applications by the early deadline in September, and more would come in online and via snail mail in October. By the final deadline, which was the first Friday in November, we would reach our usual number of between 30 and 35 artists for Festival Noir. Both my partner and I would actively seek applications from new artists; I would begin web surfing for new work during the summer; sending personalized email invitations to artists whose work I thought would enhance our show (the fact that I did not do that this year tells more of the story--I think I knew the end was near).

So, early this month my partner and I had an hour long discussion, and amidst feelings of sadness, and resignation mixed with a large measure of relief, we made the decision to cancel Festival Noir 2007. We agreed there should be two emails sent out; one to the artists who'd done our show in years past, and one to the customers who'd supported the show for 14 years:
Dear Friends of Festival Noir,

After 14 years of presenting the finest in Afrocentric hand crafted products to the New England area, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Festival Noir 2007.

We have not come to this decision easily, but in recent years, we have observed the steady decline in attendance, and an overall decline in the number of artist applications we've received. These factors have led us to the conclusion that this year's Festival Noir would be less than what we envisioned when we began in 1993; a showcase for the best of African American art, presented to an appreciative buying public.

We thank you for your support of our event. We hope you found the Festival Noir experience to be a valuable one. We have enjoyed producing it, and if future conditions permit, we may bring it back, in perhaps an altered format.

We wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, and encourage you to support the work of African American artists and artisans as you do your holiday shopping, and throughout the coming year.

We've received some feedback from the artists' email, most notably from Larry Poncho Brown, who said, in part,
"We all have to make brave decisions. Regrouping and rechanneling is essential for growth. Thank you for all you have done to keep culture alive. I am honored to have worked with you and look forward to working with you in any capacity in the future. Thank you for including me in your vision. Sometimes this business is a labor of love....OUR FUTURE WILL BE BRIGHTER."

He's right, on all counts. We will go forward. We're considering taking Festival Noir south, possibly changing it to include all kinds of artwork, and a number of other ideas which haven't taken full form yet. The future will be brighter because we've had this experience--even if Festival Noir 2006 was the last.

So, the "end" could signal the transition to something even better....stay tuned.