DeWitt welcome sign

DEWITT — This year, for the first time since 2003, there will not be a John Bloom Arts Festival in Lincoln Park in downtown DeWitt.

While board members of the DeWitt Area Fine Arts Foundation, who host the annual event, are disappointed, they said it mainly boiled down to scheduling problems.

For the festival, which was to have taken place Saturday, Sept. 28, the board likes to secure at least 15 vendors.

This year, it was able to land commitments from six artists/crafters.

“A lot of it was (the artists) had conflicts with the date,” said board treasurer Elaina Lomsdalen. “And, there were a few who said they simply don’t sell enough of their items here.”

However, even those who don’t make as much money from the festival said they still enjoy attending and displaying their products.

But as board president Marsha Witte explained, this year’s date did not time out well for a lot of the usual participants.

“It was everything from family situations to very personal things,” Witte related.

“But a lot of them still want us to have it,” added board secretary Susan Kruse.

As they met in an upstairs room at DeWitt Bank and Trust, the board already was discussing plans for next year’s festival.

“We are definitely going to have it,” Witte said. “This certainly does not mean the end of the John Bloom Arts Festival.”

Vice President Steve Thayer is the only original board member still serving the foundation, which was created in 2002.

He said while the way in which creative arts are presented in the community has changed, the foundation’s mission statement remains the same as it did 17 years ago: “The DeWitt Area Fine Arts Foundation exists to enrich the quality of life in this community and the surrounding area by encouraging, supporting and promoting fine arts.”

The board now has two high school student representatives who serve, which Thayer said has been beneficial in creating and maintaining a good relationship with the school district.

“A lot of the grants we have funded over the years have been with the schools,” he noted. “It’s made for a nice partnership, and it kind of works hand-in-hand with students being on our board and keeping us in the loop with things that are happening over at the school.”

“It was (foundation co-founder) Dick Polansky’s idea (to have students on the board),” Witte added. “He wanted to expose students to how a community organization works.”

Witte also noted board members represent a broad scope of interests — everything from vocal and instrumental music, to drama and art.

They always welcome new members, and there really only is one requirement for anyone who is considering joining them in their efforts.

“Anyone who has an interest in the arts,” said Kruse.

In addition to the John Bloom Arts Festival, events the foundation puts on each year include the Student Star Performers, which honors students from the vocal, instrumental music and drama departments who received superior ratings at their respective state competitions each spring.

The foundation also created the First Central Art Gallery in 2007, located in the lobby of The Operahouse Theatre, where area artists — including students at each of the schools in the Central DeWitt Community School District — can display their talents.

The organization also hosts musician Johnsmith, formerly of DeWitt, every two years. His next performance is slated for Saturday, July 11, 2020, at the Operahouse.

Since 2006, the DeWitt Area Fine Arts Foundation has awarded more than $50,000 in grants and gifts. In addition to awarding scholarships to Central DeWitt graduating seniors, they also have helped provide funding to the high school band, choir, art and speech departments; fine arts at St. Joseph School; visiting artists to schools in DeWitt; children’s theater; community theater; the Central DeWitt Music Boosters; the community drum circle, band and choral group; the Clinton Symphony; and other various fine arts needs.

The foundation will send out appeal letters next month, asking residents to help support the arts in DeWitt.

Money matters aside, Witte said it was the volunteers’ sheer commitment to increasing exposure to the arts that made her want to get involved.

“The goal of our events is not to fundraise,” she related. “What appealed to me at the first meeting I went to … it was not about the fundraising. It was just the people supporting fine arts. That’s how they wanted to donate their time, and I admired that.”