Breckenridge art galleries say art festival are bad for business
The Breckenridge Town Council will once again vote on whether to continue leasing parking lots to the Mountain Art Festivals.
During the last town council meeting on Sept. 27, Kim Dykstra, the director of communications, presented the history of the fairs to the council. The presentation included two of the several studies that have been done over the years showing the success of the fairs. The most recent survey was done in 2015 by Intercept Insight, LLC and showed that the end-of-July festival brought in more than 20,000 people, and generated $1.1 million. The Breckenridge Tourism Office recommended the festivals continue to use the lots based off the survey.
However, Brian Raitman, owner of Art on a Whim gallery, and Gary Freese, owner of Breckenridge Art Gallery, said during the meeting that the art fairs have been taking away from their business for years. It is something that has been brought to the attention of town council before, but was not resolved.
“It has been ongoing … and it’s been the direction the town fathers have chosen to do, which is certainly to bring more people in to the community,” Freese said.
history of disputes
The dispute was brought up again during the Sept. 27 town council meeting, when Mayor Eric Mamula asked to re-examine whether or not the town should rent out parking lots to the Mountain Art Festivals for their summer art shows.
Freese fears that the town having a thriving art gallery scene is not the primary focus for the council. He thinks it has more to do with parking congestion.
The council decided not to vote during that meeting. They will look at the issue again at next week’s meeting.
Tina Cunningham, who runs the Mountain Art Festivals with her father Dick Cunningham, said the issue is not about the galleries, it is about whether the town will continue to lease them the parking lots.
“As far as there actually being a dispute, that’s not really in question,” Tina Cunningham said. “The whole thing is basically whether or not we’re going to be able to continue renting the parking lots. “
Leasing parking lots to the fairs is a debate that the town has gone over time and again since 2000, almost always siding in favor of the festival.
The art shows in Breckenridge began under the direction of Dick Cunningham, who started Breckenridge Shows in 1982. In the ’90s it became Breckenridge Art Fairs and was led by Mark Beling and Judith Pollock. In 2015 Dick Cunningham took back over and brought in his daughter Tina Cunningham. They rebranded to Mountain Art Festivals.
In 2000, Beling contacted the town council about leasing land for their festivals during the July Fourth and Labor Day weekends. A merchant survey was done that found mostly positive results around the fairs and so the town decided to rent the Wellington and East Sawmill lots to the organization starting in 2001. But Freese said that this was not an inclusive survey as many of the businesses polled were members of the Breckenridge Resort Chamber.
“It was certainly the directive of the town to attempt to generate more summer activity, so they approved it without truly vetting the community,” Freese said.
The success of the festivals made some merchants of the town want to add another art show. In 2002, the Main Street Station merchants requested that there be an art fair at the end of July as well.
But in 2003 trouble began to brew and a complaint arose against the festivals. Town council tried to reach a compromise between merchants and Mountain Art Festivals, but was unsuccessful. In the end, officials decided to continue their annual agreements to rent the parking lots.
In 2005, the issue came up again. Freese said that at the time, 27 different businesses in Breckenridge petitioned against the fairs, saying they were detrimental, whether it was due to parking issues or sales. Freese added that of those organizations that were part of the petition, only seven or eight remain. He added that part of the reason the petition failed was because of lodging numbers. Many of the hotels and bed and breakfasts were seeing, and continue to see, increased numbers due to the festivals.
“We didn’t collectively have the reinforcement from that part of the community (in order) to have any weight before the council,” Freese said.
Another survey was completed saying that nearly a quarter of visitors said the festival played a large role in their decision to visit the town. The council voted to continue leasing the lots for the July Fourth and Labor Day weekends.
In 2006 it was decided that the festival during July Fourth made the town too crowded, and the town stopped leasing a lot for that particular fair. The festival instead moved to Main Street Station.
In 2013 gallery owners were asked by the council to show data that said the fairs were hurting business. The owner of Art on a Whim gallery presented at the Sept. 24, 2013 meeting.
At the conclusion of the town decided that the art fairs needed to reach out to local galleries to collaborate with them.
Tina Cunningham said that Mountain Art Festivals does this every year, and has only ever seen a response from Art on a Whim. She said they also have a page on the Mountain Art Festivals website that lists all of the local galleries in Breckenridge.
“This past spring I worked very closely with Brian Raitman from Art on a Whim, we were able to get his artists in all three of our festivals and he had very good weekends from what I understand,” said Tina Cunningham.
But Freese said the festivals direct potential gallery business away.
He added that with his gallery, he has had some artists that he’s worked with for years leave because they could no longer be sustained by his business. He said he has looked at other solutions, such as partnering with the art district, but is concerned it will not be enough. He said that many of the galleries have talked about moving or closing and that many have done so. He thinks that if the trend continues it will leave a void in the community.
“At this point, it’s what it is,” Freese said. “What’s a little bit of a contradiction to me is that they’re putting such substantial dollars into the art district and feel the need to sustain a viable art district community but don’t have any outward willingness to develop or embellish or grow the independent commercial art galleries in the community.”
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