For the past two decades, Seattle's Bumbershoot arts festival has overrun the Seattle Center grounds from about noon on Friday to late-night Monday over Labor Day weekend. But last week, One Reel, the nonprofit organization that produces the event, announced that it is downsizing the festival from four days to three.
Festival producer Heather Smith prefers to think of a Saturday–Monday schedule as a return to a tried-and-true format rather than a cutback. Since its inauguration in 1971, Bumbershoot has ranged anywhere from two to 11 days. The decision was made, Smith says, after crunching last year's numbers. One Reel knew soon after Bumbershoot 2005 that a format change was needed. "Friday has always been a slow day. . . . It doesn't even begin to pick up until 7," says Smith.
Rising artists' fees coupled with a desire to increase the level of talent—that is, book bigger names—led to the decision to concentrate resources. To organizers, subtracting a day from the schedule was preferable to raising admission fees: "One of the primary reasons for going to three days," Smith adds, "was to keep ticket prices affordable to attendees." Under the new plan, each day will be neither longer nor shorter than in the past—nor busier. Bumbershoot uses just about every possible square inch of Seattle Center as it is, reports Smith. (The Mercer Arts Arena, unfortunately, is off limits due to seismic reasons, and the availability of KeyArena is always a question mark until the end of August, depending on whether or not the WNBA Storm reaches the playoffs.)
Smith promises that the percentage of local versus national acts will remain the same: "two to three slots per day on most stages, with almost all slots in the Experience Music Project's Sky Church devoted to local band performances," she says. Still, the loss of Friday will mean fewer performances overall.
Veteran Seattle rocker Gretta Harley says she thinks the decision to trim Bumbershoot "stinks." Friday meant "more options for local musicians to play, and a lighter day . . . for those of us who otherwise might not delve into the usually overcrowded other days."
But Beth Barrett, programming manager for the Seattle International Film Festival, in charge of Bumbershoot's 1 Reel Film Festival offerings, is undaunted. "We're going to run as many films as we humanly can," she says. They're shooting for a lineup of 100 films or more (about as many as in 2005), and they plan to run films continuously as they have in Bumbershoots past.
For some, the lack of attendance made Friday the most attractive day to attend. It was the one day of the weekend that strollers and wheelchairs could easily be maneuvered around the grounds, and that parents could keep a close tab on toddlers. Smith admitted in The Seattle Times that "Friday was awesome for families and for people who weren't working and could come down and enjoy a light day at the Festival"—though she also makes clear that "historically, more families have attended the other days of the Festival."
One Reel's recent decision to move its Summer Nights concert series to Gas Works Park proved unpopular with park neighbors who complained they'd been left out of the process, but that didn't convince One Reel to seek significant input from the public on Bumbershoot. Michael Killoren, director of Seattle's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, reports that One Reel kept his office in the loop concerning the change: "We knew after last year's Bumbershoot there would be some kind of change in the business model." But Seattle City Council President Nick Licata reports that One Reel called his office about two weeks before the announcement asking for a meeting to discuss the matter. At that point, One Reel reported to one of Licata's assistants that the change was being considered but hadn't been finalized. Licata didn't realize the deal was done until One Reel issued its press release Feb. 8.