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Art in the Park faces uncertain future

Staff writer

Every year, Theora Hoover approaches Judy Christensen on the third Saturday in September, better known in Marion as Art in the Park day, with the same request: To sell more nuts.

“Here’s my money for next year, I want to come back, and I want to reserve the same spot,” she would say.

“Lots n Nuts,” Hoover’s Salina-based business, has been a mainstay at Art in the Park. While there, she customarily reserves her spot for the following year’s event.

That won’t be happening this year.

“We’d hate to take someone’s money then have to turn around and have to give it back,” Christensen said.

The future of Art in the Park is a question mark for the first time in 22 years. That’s how long Margo Yates has been helping Christensen to organize it.

With Yates applying for a director position with Marion’s newly created parks and recreation department, she may not be available to help Christensen plan next year’s event. Should Yates be unavailable, Christensen said, she just doesn’t see how she could continue on with the event.

“She’s like my right-hand guy,” Christensen said. “I wouldn’t want to assume all that responsibility alone.”

One of Christensen’s primary tasks is to map out the vendors, placing each one carefully to avoid putting similar vendors beside one another, and keeping in mind which particular spots certain vendors want.

Yates, meanwhile, is the master coordinator, accepting applications and helping vendors who have questions or need lodging information and directions.

“Margo’s the answerer,” Christensen said. “I don’t want to put my telephone on and have all that coming into my house. I couldn’t handle it.”

Christensen and Yates have both been on the lookout for potential successors, but with little luck.

“We haven’t found anybody,” Christensen said. “We’ve asked other organizations, but nobody has come forward.”

The closest the pair has come to finding a replacement is an association with Marion PRIDE. The group has offered to help staff the volunteer event this year, but didn’t want to commit to anything further.

“That word, ‘commit,’ really gets people,” Christensen said. “They don’t want to do it by themselves.”

Yates said it takes a staff of about 10 to 12 to fill the necessary volunteer slots. Finding volunteers for the event isn’t the main problem, however. The challenge is finding the one or two people that will organize those volunteers, coordinate the exhibitions, and spend 14 hours overseeing operations that Saturday.

Yates said that, should a committed person or group come forward to run the event, it’s possible they could make improvements to it and do a better job.

“There’s always room for improvement,” Yates said. “That’s what change is all about.”

She said she and Christensen would be happy to help others acclimate to running the event, but that there’s no one way to make it happen.

“What I do is not rocket science,” she said.

Yates has been juggling contingency plans for many different community events she helps organize, as it appears her hybrid work schedule of recreation director and chamber of commerce secretary is due to cease at the end of 2015.

Throughout the stress and uncertainty, she’s tried to keep her head above water.

“You realize things can’t stay the same forever,” she said. “I’m just trying to be positive and optimistic that we’re going to have good things come out of it.”

While it’d be difficult to classify the cessation of a 37-year-old celebration of art as a “good thing,” Yates remains hopeful volunteers and organizers will come forward to preserve the event.

“It’s just like anything else,” she said. “It comes down to, ‘How bad does everybody want this to happen?’ People are going to have to step up.”

As for Hoover’s nut-selling enterprise, she’ll have to wait on a contingency plan, too.

“We’ll tell them, ‘Give us your name, and if we get it figured out, we’ll contact you,’” Christensen said.

Last modified Sept. 9, 2015

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