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Fest getting harder to produce, but Crawfish Festival ought to be saved

When we think of area festivals in all of the communities around Portland, we should take great pride here in West Linn that the city’s Old Time Fair is in good hands and continues to operate so strongly.

That’s not the case in some of our neighboring cities.

The Tualatin Crawfish Festival has an uncertain future now that the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce has decided it no longer can dedicate the resources necessary to produce the 63-year-old festival each year.

No one should fault the Tualatin chamber for that decision. Organizing a major community festival is a year-round job that requires money, labor and hundreds of hours of attention. It’s a job that fewer organizations are able to take on — not just in Tualatin, but in communities throughout the region. And so again, we are appreciative of what we have here in West Linn.

In Beaverton, the former Taste of Beaverton, which morphed briefly into SummerFest, disappeared in 2004. Like the Crawfish Festival, it had been organized by the local chamber of commerce, which realized that putting on a festival isn’t necessarily the most appropriate use of a chamber’s time and money. The Beaverton chamber also recognized that outdoor festivals have become so commonplace in the summertime that it’s hard to attract a large enough audience to cover all the expenses.

We have seen many community festivals falter throughout the metro area due to competition, organizer fatigue and a chronic shortage of funds. The Crawfish Festival, however, is unusual for its longevity. It has a regional identity and still exhibits youthful vibrancy, even as it closes in on senior-citizen status.

The Tualatin chamber has guided the festival through its last 25 years. That means chamber staff had to book performers, solicit sponsors, arrange vendor contracts, plan the contests and crawfish boils, pay for the insurance and handle all the logistics of a major event.

Chambers of commerce exist in part to promote their communities, but their larger role is to serve the businesses that make up their membership. Organizing a festival can be a distraction from a chamber’s primary mission. In West Linn, the chamber focuses on a variety of business-related opportunities.

With that said, we count ourselves among those who would like to see the Crawfish Festival continue. The Crawfish Festival isn’t a generic summer outdoor event. It has a deeper tradition than most festivals and celebrates something quite specific.

Going forward, a community festival such as this would best be served by a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to find sponsors for the festival and plan activities. As Dave Nicoli, who saved the Tigard Festival of Balloons, has noted, whoever takes over the Crawfish Festival shouldn’t expect to make money from the venture. Organizing a festival must be a labor love, and it should be undertaken with the goal of building a stronger community.

The Crawfish Festival is a lot of work, but it’s also worth saving for the right reasons.




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