As part of an effort to reverse three consecutive years of red ink and dwindling crowds, the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair — the state’s oldest heritage fair — is getting a name change, becoming a fall festival instead of a mid-summer event and looking for ways to connect with a younger audience to ensure that it has a future.
Members of the fair’s governing board voted on Wednesday to change the three-day festival’s name to “Mountain State Art & Craft Fair: An Appalachian Experience,” and use the tagline: “An autumn celebration of art, food, music and culture” in promoting the event.
The decision to move the date of the fair from early July, usually coinciding with the Independence Day holiday weekend, to Sept. 16–18, was made during last month’s board meeting.
“This will be a re-growth year for the fair,” said Karen Facemyer, a former state senator who serves as president of the festival’s governing board. “It may be a little smaller than it has been in the past, but we hope to expand in the future.”
Part of the reason for the date switch involves a schedule conflict with Ripley’s annual Fourth of July Festival, which culminates in America’s largest small-town parade on Independence Day. This year’s event included five days of pre-parade activities.
“We’ve heard from Ripley Mayor Carolyn Rader, and she supports the Fair’s move to September,” said Facemyer.
Moving the fair to September also would make it possible to bring school groups to the festival to learn about the state’s heritage, said board member Jason Hughes.
“Summer is the wrong time of the year to get young people involved,” he said, citing family vacations and youth sports.
“We need to take a look at what younger people want — that’s our challenge,” said board member Steve Castle, who also serves as Tamarack’s product development coordinator. “The fair is at risk because our market is getting older. People who used to visit the fair don’t travel any more.”
“The fair was at risk of being shut down after three years of losses in a row,” said Hughes. “We have to add more activities to draw more people to the fair. Just arts and crafts won’t do it. We need to draw the crowds needed to buy your products.”