LENOX -- The town is rolling out a warm welcome mat for the Berkshire Arts Festival, arriving at the 30-acre Shakespeare and Company campus over the Sept. 28-30 weekend. The organizers, based at the Butternut ski area around the July 4 holiday for 11 years, hosted a three-day sequel there in late August.
The Select Board has approved a $3,000 loan to entrepreneur and promoter Richard Rothbard's for-profit company, American Art Marketing, Inc., based near Middletown, N.Y., to help cover start-up costs for the juried event that is expected to attract at least 100 artists, mostly from outside Berkshire County.
Rothbard has described the upcoming festival, a first for Lenox, as a partnership and benefit for the theater troupe; Shakespeare and Company will sell food and beverages and retain several dollars from each ticket purchased, according to David Joseph, special-events manager.
Selectman Channing Gib son told the Selectmen at their Sept. 5 meeting that Rothbard had appeared before the town's Events Committee last month seeking $5,000, but committee members ultimately app roved a recommendation to the Select Board for $3,000, to be repaid out of profits from the arts festival.
"He's a promoter, it's a money-making operation for him," said Gibson. "He has expressed a very strong desire to make Lenox the base for his coming back to the Berkshires with arts festivals."
Rothbard told the events committee that he may stage an additional event in March, "an idea which lit up everybody in the room, knowing that March is a pretty empty month," Gibson observed.
"He brought a lot of enthusiasm with him," the Selectman added. "He has done many of these festivals and he has credibility in this area. He does not have at this point enough artists who've joined to cover some of the up-front costs. For him, it's a cash-flow issue, as it is for many promoters."
Rothbard told The Eagle on Friday he has 100 artists lined up for Sept. 28-30 in Lenox who pay a $35 application fee, plus $395 for an outside booth up to $550 for a booth under a large tent. "We'd normally like 150 artists but we're in pretty good shape," he said. Rothbard said that he's anticipating a turnout of 3,000 art enthusiasts.
He explained that his plans for Berkshire Arts Festival events next year include two July weekends at Butternut as well as another festival at Shakespeare and Company in late September. Also under negotiation is a potential mid-June show at Tanglewood next year.
At Butternut this summer 5,800 people attended the July 4 holiday show, Rothbard said, yielding about $750,000 in purchases, while about 2,000 turned out for Aug. 24-26, below expectations. His expenses for each festival are about $50,000, he added.
Select Board Chairman Kenneth Fowler, who has attended the festival at Butternut, said "it draws a high-class type of artist." Gibson emphasized Rothbard's stated desire to make Lenox the permanent home of the Berkshire Arts Festival.
According to Fowler, "the key here is to make sure that local merchants understand that this is bringing in new people to the area who might not have come here before."
Fowler expressed concern that some local merchants and gallery owners "might think of this as just another craft fair that's going to take people away from the downtown area. We've got to think differently...if this were to become the permanent home of this thing, this would tie into the town."
Selectman Edward Lane de scribed the procedure of loaning money to incoming events as "a perfect fit for us. It's the type of event that's going to bring a lot of people into town. It's a great idea, we can't lose."
"I think we should run with it this year and see what happens," Fowler declared.
Arts and crafts to be displayed include jewelry, clothing, mixed media, photography, metal, cer amics, glass, painting, sculpture, fiber arts, leather, woodworking and furniture.