Update: Changes for mainstay Williamsburg arts fest

WYDaily.com is your source for free news and information in Williamsburg, James City & York Counties.

Jeweler Tim Caviness shows work to AOFTA visitors (Photo by Sally Stiles)
Jeweler Tim Caviness shows work to AOFTA visitors (Photo by Sally Stiles)

An Occasion for the Arts, an outdoor visual art and music festival entering its 43rd year in Williamsburg, is looking to include new ticketed events this fall with offerings such as live music and craft beer tastings.

Historically occurring the first Saturday and Sunday of October, the festival will kick off this year on Friday, Sept. 30, with a performing arts concert.

“The diversity of the acts that night will be really interesting and enjoyable,”said Stuart Honenberger, president of the AOFTA board of directors.

The show will start at 5 p.m. and continue until 10 p.m. in the parking lot behind Blue Talon Bistro. The lineup includes The Dharma Initiative, a groove band from Hampton Roads; Poisoned Dwarf, a Celtic band based in Williamsburg; and Rumble Seat Revival, a jazz band based in Richmond.

Tickets, which include the cost of admittance and a drink, will be $15 in advance and $20 at the door, Honenberger said. Other planned ticketed events include daytime performances by the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra and a Sunday afternoon craft beer tasting.

The general festival activities, including the art show and live music in Merchants Square, will remain free to the public, Honenberger said, calling the ticketed events opportunities for “premium experiences.”

“I have every belief [that] if we execute them well, we will sell a lot of tickets, if not sell out,” he said.

However, in order to move forward with this year’s enhancements, Honenberger is requesting $25,000 from the city’s tourism contingency fund. Through the fund, the city council can award one-time funding requests to help event organizers start new initiatives or build upon existing events.

City of Williamsburg staff has recommended awarding $10,000 to allow the AOFTA board to hire a consultant to assist the logistics of the expansion. But the remaining $15,000 of the request, which would cover security, tents and staging, was not found to meet the funding criteria, said City Manager Marvin Collins.

The city has already budgeted $21,500 for the 2016 festival, which includes $11,000 from the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance and $10,500 provided through the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission.

The expanded 2016 event is estimated to cost $144,350, which is $65,540 more than last year’s festival, according to a budget prepared by the AOFTA board.

If the full request is not approved, Honenberger said the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra performances would be cut, noting the budget for those shows could exceed $30,000.

“I think to get people to travel to our community and make this weekend a staple we need to offer something more,” Honenberger said. “If we don’t get the funding, we’re only going to add a little bit or take a year off from expanding it. It will just be a longer road to get there.”

The Williamsburg City Council will vote on how to fund the AOFTA request Thursday afternoon. Mayor Clyde Haulman commended Honenberger and the board for its “forward looking” and innovative approach to expanding the festival, which is considered the cornerstone for Williamsburg Fall Arts, a six-week celebration of all things art in the Historic Triangle.

“What you’re proposing to do fits perfectly with that vision of what needs to be done and what can be done,” Haulman said. “I’m very supportive of the direction you’re going in.”

Update (June 12): The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to award $17,000 to An Occasion for the Arts from its tourism contingency fund, $7,000 more than the amount recommended by staff.

Vice Mayor Paul Freiling recommended the larger allocation to cover the cost of hiring a consultant to handle logistics for the expanded visual and performing arts event.

The council agreed with Freiling’s recommendation, with Mayor Clyde Haulman calling it a “nice balance” between the $25,000 AOFTA requested and the $10,000 recommended.

“That’s a number that covers their full cost of the consultant,” Haulman said. “I think we can do that to contribute to their moving forward but it also says, ‘You as a group need to find sponsorships to do the rest of it.”

This article was originally published on June 7, 2016.