Community needs showcase festival

By Observer editorial April 20, 2011 10:32 am
It’s a funny thing about a soaring high hope. Shoot it down, and it dies a quiet death. People soon forget it ever flew.

Crossing the Blues, the summer festival that was supposed to become La Grande’s signature event, was like that. It passed quietly at a recent city council meeting when Jon Larkin, one of the volunteers who made the festival go for three seasons, said there won’t be a fourth because no organized group is willing to take it over.

As people always say when a high hope dies, what a shame. How sad.

Crossing the Blues was supposed to be a showcase for music and the arts, a festival fitting for a university town like ours. Though it wasn’t much more than moderately successful during its short run, it had potential. It grew a little every year, and, with the right marketing, could have grown more.

The event, which featured live music and theater performances, street dances, film screenings, kids activities and arts and crafts vendors, needed a sponsoring organization to line up entertainment, recruit and coordinate volunteers and, above all, attract grant funding.
Larkin said the festival’s leadership team tried for months without success to find an entity to take it over. He mentioned the La Grande Main Street Program as one organization that took a pass. Obviously, there were others.

It’s disappointing that the Union County Chamber of Commerce didn’t step up. For one thing, the chamber has a contract with the City of La Grande and Union County for tourism promotion. Crossing the Blues was, if nothing else, a tourism-related activity. For another thing, Chamber Executive Director Judy Hector told the city when she was lobbying for the tourism contract that she meant to accent “intellectual tourism” in her marketing efforts. Arts-oriented Crossing the Blues fit right into that niche.
For whatever reason, Crossing the Blues is gone, and probably for good. Even though Larkin held out some hope the fest might come back to life sometime in the future, there hasn’t been much conversation about it.  People seem to be forgetting already. Crossing the Blues is fading into history.

If there’s one thing good to say about this high hope plummeting earthward, it’s that $11,000 left over in the Crossing the Blues account is going to reconstruction of the Riverside Park pavilion. Larkin said he hopes the new pavilion becomes the scene of events like Crossing the Blues in the future. He said he and his fellow festival volunteers would find some satisfaction in that.

 We would, too. Crossing the Blues founders were right when they said Union County’s vibrant arts community is something to recognize and celebrate. That one special weekend showing some of what the county has to offer was a good idea. The community needs a showcase festival.