Metro-East News

Strange Folk Festival for this year is off, O’Fallon says

A family looks at some of the crafts for sale at a booth during the 2014 Strange Folk Festival.
A family looks at some of the crafts for sale at a booth during the 2014 Strange Folk Festival. O’Fallon Progress

It’s definite: There will be no Strange Folk Festival this year. No vendors selling necklaces made of old maps or books formed into decorative letters. No children’s area with hula hoops and fairy-like hideaways; no guitar-and-singer musical duos.

The O’Fallon Community Park may have activity on the last weekend in September this year, but it will not be the Strange Folk Festival.

“There are no winners in this situation, and the losers are the city’s residents,” read a statement posted on the city of O’Fallon’s website Wednesday morning.

City officials said they had been taking calls from interested vendors.

“It was time to let them know we are not, so they have time to go somewhere else until we regroup and rebrand and move on from there,” said Mary Jeanne Hutchison, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department.

The city’s statement pinned the development squarely on the person who has long claimed intellectual ownership of the festival, Autumn Wiggins.

“It is with much regret that the City of O’Fallon announces it will not be holding its annual arts festival this year as a result of controversy created by former Arts Commission member Autumn Wiggins,” the statement said.

“Given the misunderstanding, rancor and conflict, we have concluded at this point that it will be very difficult to hold a successful Strange Folk Festival or any kind of arts festival in the City of O’Fallon this year.”

“They can’t do it without me,” Wiggins said by phone when first told of the cancellation. “So I didn’t think they would.”

Who did what and to what extent has been a longstanding point of contention, with some vendors and Wiggins on one side and longtime volunteers and the city on the other.

Hutchison acknowledged Wiggins was a big part of the festival’s art side but discounted that the festival was a Wiggins-only event.

“If that’s what she thinks, that’s what she thinks,” Hutchison said. “I do think that Autumn has a lot of talent, but when we get down to the logistics ... of layout and electrical and all those things that come out the back side, we pretty much run on a business plan.”

“The City of O’Fallon is logistically, legally and physically incapable of producing Strange Folk Festival without me. This was never a question,” Wiggins wrote in an email, explaining her confidence in the Strange Folk Festival’s demise once she decided to move onto other projects.

Hutchison disagreed with that assessment but referred to potential legal fees as one reason to cancel the festival this year.

“There’s a business sense in my mind. How much money do you want to throw at this? ... Is it really worth spending $50,000 on a legal thing? No, it’s not. We’ll move on and find something else just as wonderful when the time is right,” Hutchison said.

Wiggins wrote on the Strange Folk Festival website on April 29 that there would not be a festival this year, noting her responsibilities to her shop and allegations of a laptop theft.

Wiggins was paid a stipend by the city; but has said she was never an employee of the city and the Strange Folk Festival was her intellectual property.

“O’Fallon can hold any kind of festival they like the last weekend of September; they just can’t call it Strange Folk,” she wrote on the website in April, in a missive titled “Glittergate.”

Hutchison said the festival was a “really great interactive art festival” that evolved with Wiggins’ help. She also said the city learned how to run a festival, including learning to write stronger contracts.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department “felt like a celebrity in the news,” Hutchison said, with the “very viral (social) media attack.”

There was “definitely” an organized social media effort backing Wiggins, she said, and “we’re not going to come out and discuss personnel issues when legally we can’t.”

There is one point that the city and Wiggins have long agreed upon.

“The Strange Folk Festival was never about making money – it was about promoting the arts and doing something good for O’Fallon,” the city’s statement said.

That statement echoes sentiments in Wiggins’ letter from April that the festival grew, because she loved her hometown and wanted to help arts appreciation there grow.

Contact reporter Mary Cooley at mcooley@bnd.com or 618-239-2535. Follow her on Twitter: @MaryCooleyBND.

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