WEST POINT — In mid-August, Prairie Arts Festival organizers worried that the rise of COVID cases would make them cancel the event that has been held since 1978.
Working with West Point officials and employees, organizers put together what they hoped would be a safe and fun festival, said Lisa Klutts, director of Main Street and Tourism for West Point.
By 10 a.m. Saturday, about two hours into the festival, several hundred people were visiting about 250 vendors and several musician stages in downtown West Point.
During the planning process, festival organizers knew other events around West Point had not been cancelled.
“We really lead into the fall and a string of festivals throughout the area,” Klutts said. “I felt like they were all watching our decisions, and what we were doing and planning would impact how they would proceed.”
The festival was down some vendors Saturday compared to past years. The festival was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“We’re not at capacity like a normal year, but we are full,” Klutts said. “I’m proud of the response of our vendors.”
Among the festival vendors was Neely Bryan, executive director of the West Point and Clay County Animal Shelter. She, along with other Clay County nonprofits and civic organizations, set up booths at the festival to publicize their organizations.
The shelter held a raffle for a Big Green Egg grill with a stand.
“We are raising funds for the shelter,” she said. “We have over 150 animals and the medical care and expenses are astronomical.”
While at the festival, Bryan could be seen waving to people she knew and checking up on animals that had been placed with local families.
“So far, I’ve met some of the people we’ve adopted animals out to and have talked to others about what we do,” she said.
Sandra Murray, of West Point, has frequently been a visitor to the Prairie Arts Festival. This year was the first time she went representing her employer BankFirst. She serves as branch manager and vice president at BankFirst in West Point.
At the bank’s booth, visitors could drop a ball into a pegged board. The ball, which was cleaned between each use, would stop at the opposite end of the board in a slot that corresponded with different prizes, ranging from mini-footballs to coozies.
Murray said she saw a lot of old friends and met some new people at the festival. She was eager to take a break from the BankFirst booth and visit with friends and other vendors.
“This is a great opportunity for the community,” she said of the festival’s return.
As the director of the Growth Alliance, Klutts said she knows the importance of continuing traditions, such as the Prairie Arts Festival. “But it needed to be done safely.”
Precautions included shifting the festival from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and placing several hand sanitizing and hand-washing stations throughout the festival site.
“People need to be cautious, but people are also ready to have some sort of normalcy,” she said. “I hope they can do that within their comfort level when coming to the Prairie Arts Festival.”
Organizers will begin planning for the 2022 festival in April.
“We may keep the festival starting at 8 a.m.,” Klutts said. “Two is still kind of early to cut it off. We missed the Prairie Arts train this year. … We do want to have that back next year. … Some things we might tweak and keep, and some things we definitely want to go back to.”
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