Summer Arts Festival attendance increases

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Springfield News-Sun reporter Andrew McGinn has been covering the community for nearly 15 years, from its arts offerings to the lives of local veterans.

Attendance was up again at the Summer Arts Festival, which ended last weekend.

It’s estimated that more than 90,000 people gathered in Veterans Park at some point during the nearly six weeks of free entertainment, according to David A. White III, executive director of the Springfield Arts Council.

Counting the people who pour into the park from all directions isn’t exactly easy — or admittedly that accurate.

“Our numbers are estimated through a highly scientific process of counting every hair on every head,” White joked this week.

Last year’s massive spike in attendance — from 59,120 in 2011 to 87,940 in 2012 — turned out to be more than just a fluke.

This year’s festival was without a national headliner, instead relying on a multitude of tribute bands to complement two community musicals and other events.

But, in addition to another jump in attendance, the arts council also raised $208,220, White said, through a combination of passing the hat during intermission, concession and raffle sales, and special events.

“That’s amazingly impressive for a free event,” he said.

White said continues to be amazed by the festival, which started 47 years ago.

This was White’s third festival since joining the arts council, but his first since moving to the organization’s helm in the wake of Chris Moore’s retirement after 41 festivals.

“If a casual observer was looking at the scene, they wouldn’t know if they were sitting next to a millionaire or someone who just lost their job,” he said. “Patrons of all colors, shapes and sizes gather together to enjoy this festival. That’s an impact no other community can call its own.”

Under White’s leadership, a few changes are likely in store.

He envisions family entertainment during the week and a bigger emphasis on the weekends, “when we really kick it up a notch with either tribute bands or the real thing.”

The festival also is just several years shy of its 50th anniversary.

“I can’t wait for the bells and whistles we’ll try to pull out to make that special,” White said.