Ready, set, Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival is a go!
— Created June 16, 2021 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
The Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival has been given the green light to proceed. The 57th annual festival, produced by the Coupeville Festival Association, will take place Aug. 14-15, and will be the first festival of its kind to take place on Whidbey Island since the pandemic brought an end to such events.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief,” said Deborah O’Brien, president of the Coupeville Festival Association’s board of directors. “Personally, I view it as a gift we can give to the community, now that we’re coming out of COVID. It’s a gift to the vendors, too, to try to establish some normalcy. It’s important that we keep going forward; we’ve become so used to looking inward in the last 16 months, now we can be outward-looking.”
O’Brien, who took over as board president in January, said she and the rest of the board were devastated by having to cancel the event last year – the first time in the festival’s 57-year history.
“It was incredibly difficult,” she said. “We held out as long as we could, but we could see the writing on the wall.”
While board members are thrilled the association is able to proceed with a festival in August, the lingering effects of COVID will affect how this year’s event will look.
“We are planning on the state being opened up June 30,” O’Brien said..”We don’t know what things will be like in August, so we are going by the protocols that are in place now for planning purposes. That means we have spaced the booths out to allow for social distancing, which means we have had to cut the number of booths down to 130 from 190.”
O’Brien was quick to point out no vendors were eliminated due to the downsizing.
“We didn’t cut anybody,” she said. “We accepted vendors last year and then had to cancel. We’ve carried all those vendors forward to this year. We did lose some vendors, through attrition, which took us down to 130.
“We already have 20 vendors on a waiting list now,” O’Brien continued. “But the vendors have been so patient and we’ve been in constant communication with them.”
Jewelry, art and hand-crafted items of all kinds set the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival apart from other gatherings, O’Brien said.
“We have an incredible lineup, with 40 new vendors who haven’t been to the festival before,” she described. “Nothing that has been commercially made is allowed in our festival. We don’t have the products that are more associated with carnivals, for example. These items are extremely high quality. We try to keep it affordable, but high quality.”
Having the festival back on the calendar means the association can get back to giving back.
“The festival allows us to give out grants and scholarships,” O’Brien said. “At this point we’ve given out well over a million dollars in grants and scholarships, and we’re pretty proud of that. Last year we couldn’t give any because we didn’t have the festival.”
One of the keys to the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival’s ongoing success, according to O’Brien, is its volunteers – the heart and soul of the festival.
“Pulling everything together this year is akin to starting our heart with a 220-volt line,” she laughed. “But we have and want to solicit the most incredible group of volunteers. We hadn’t planned on having food, but people have jumped in and we’ve got food. People are coming out of the woodwork to help. We welcome volunteers – they are the heart and soul of this organization. It takes 200 volunteers to pull this festival together and every year they just sort of appear.”
As O’Brien mentioned, the festival is scaled back a bit this year. One big change is that there won’t be live music, because current health guidelines prevent it. And because there could still be some COVID protocols in place in August, the board has decided to try to keep this event as local as possible.
“We can’t control crowd access, obviously, but we are trying to make this strictly an island-wide festival instead of a state-wide festival,” she said. “I think we’re just looking for it to be a community-centered event to try to bring people together after being forced to be apart for so long.”
O’Brien said she believes the smaller scale will be beneficial to Coupeville businesses as well.
“We are going to pretty much keep it like it was, just smaller,” she said. “It’s going to be what we’re terming a ‘return to 20 years ago,’ before it got so big. Smaller, more intimate. It will allow more access to merchants. I know in some ways the festival is inconvenient for merchants and in some ways it increases business for merchants. This year merchants and vendors will be working together with us to put on an incredible festival.”
Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the Coupeville Arts and Crafts Festival can sign up through the website at coupevillefestival.com or by emailing O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.