The sixth annual Alexandria Festival of the Arts has come and gone. Last weekend Old Town played host to 150 juried artists from around the country and, by most accounts, the festival was a success.
Crowd counts are not yet official, but the festival organizers and the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association who helped promote the event appear to be pleased with the turnout, despite the unseasonably hot weather on Sunday.
Six years ago, the festival was brought to town in order to focus attention on Alexandria as a regional art center. In that respect, it has certainly succeeded. Media attention for the event was generous, and we suspect that the festival provided many of the weekend browsers with their first experience in our beautiful and historic community.
The city certainly did their part in making the event a success, too. Police presence was abundant and members of the force were courteous to our visitors. We heard that overnight security for the King Street site was excellent. The city maintenance staff should also be commended for efficiently managing the set-up and break-down of the festival site.
By most measures, it was indeed a successful event for Alexandria.
But not everybody is happy.
Despite heavy foot traffic along the festival route, most King Street merchants reported dismal sales over the weekend. Restaurants, especially those with curbside dining, apparently did very well. But for most merchants on the strip, the festival was a bust. Some stores saw little or no foot traffic. Others heard complaints about traffic hassles from their regular clientele. And, despite promoting their Arts Activated event where artists demonstrated their crafts to the public, traffic in the Torpedo Factory was off as well.
So, wheres the balance?
Most would agree that tourism dollars are an important component to the quality of life in our town. Those dollars help us maintain our city services, support our schools, and contribute to our quality of life. And, in the competitive D.C. metro market, Alexandria needs a first-class organization like the ACVA to help us compete for tourist dollars, especially considering the impact that National Harbor may have in the future.
We propose that next year the city consider sponsoring a festival celebrating all that is Alexandria. The unique boutiques, the fabulous restaurants, incredible galleries that line King Street, and the unique and precious historical legacy that we enjoy.
Its our local businesses, galleries and artists who make Alexandria a world-class city. Lets celebrate all of that. While the Alexandria Festival of the Arts may be an important component in our overall marketing mix, Alexandria has much to celebrate already.