2012 Westobou Festival will be cut to five days

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Molly McDowell, Westobou Festival's artistic coordinator, speaks during a town hall meeting for local arts groups that have helped put on the festival the past four years. Next year, Westobou Festival Inc. will be the sole presenter and producer, and the event will be just five days.  Sara Caldwell/Staff
Sara Caldwell/Staff
Molly McDowell, Westobou Festival's artistic coordinator, speaks during a town hall meeting for local arts groups that have helped put on the festival the past four years. Next year, Westobou Festival Inc. will be the sole presenter and producer, and the event will be just five days.

Less is more in 2012 as far as the Westobou Festival is concerned.

Next year’s festival will be just five days long, organizers announced at a town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Morris Museum of Art.

The meeting was held for representatives of local arts groups who, for the past four years, have worked with Westobou Festival Inc. to produce the 10-day celebration of visual arts, words, film, music and dance in Augusta.

The shorter festival is just one of the ways Westobou is shifting directions in 2012, said Molly McDowell, Westobou’s artistic coordinator.

For the first time, event programming will be solely produced and presented by the Westobou Festival. It’s a model based on the success of other arts festivals throughout the region, McDowell said.

“This will create a more cohesive-feeling festival,” she said.

In 2008, the Westobou Festival debuted with nearly 200 performances over 10 days. Those were reduced to about 50 in 2011 as the festival focused on quality over quantity.

In 2012, Westobou will present five headlining events – one for each night of the festival – and a few programs throughout the day. The festival is scheduled for Oct. 3-7.

The 2011 festival, which ended Oct. 8, generated an estimated $80,000 in visitor spending, according to the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“2011 was the best festival yet,” said Shell Berry, the chairman of the Westobou Festival Board of Directors. “We continue to grow and move into directions that are very exciting.”

The changes not only give festival organizers more creative control, but also help Westobou become self-sustaining, Berry said.

The festival was conceived in 2005 by the Trustees of the Academy of Richmond County with funding from the Porter Fleming Foundation. Since 2008, hundreds of thousands of dollars, including more than $200,000 in 2011, have been awarded to arts groups through the Porter Fleming Foundation Westobou Festival Awards.

Those same grants won’t be offered in 2012, Berry said.

Arts groups can still apply for other funding through the Porter Fleming Foundation, which accepts applications through Jan. 31. Funding through the foundation, however, no longer implies acceptance into the Westobou Festival.

“The link between the Porter Fleming grant and an event that happens during Westobou is no longer there,” Berry said.

A select few arts groups could present festival organizers with ideas for Westobou programming, producing a limited partnership. Arts groups are also welcome to produce events in conjunction with the Westobou schedule, even if they’re not sanctioned festival events.

“We hope people do that,” McDowell said. “We don’t want to alienate anyone.”

Cindy O’Brien, the executive director of The Art Factory in Augusta, said she hopes the changes have a positive impact on the festival.

“It’s a very interesting concept,” she said. “I’m excited. I think the festival could use the focus. We’ll have to see what happens.”

Lauren Virgo, the executive director of the Arts & Heritage Center of North Augusta, said she hopes organizations like hers find new ways to work with Westobou.

“We want to continue to be part of the festival,” she said. “We’d like to see North Augusta still involved. It’s a lot to take in, but this seems to have worked for other arts festivals. Hopefully, it’ll work for Westobou.”


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