After 18 Years, Organizers Rethink Solarfest

07/19/12 7:34AM By Nina Keck
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Start with an outdoor alternative energy symposium. Add lots of creative arts, a dash of hippy subculture and plenty of food and music and you get the three-day celebration known as Solarfest. But after 18 years, organizers say attendance is dropping and it may be time to rethink the energy festival

Solarfest started with a small group of friends who shared a passion for performing arts and sustainable living. In 1995, with help from lots of volunteers, they held the first Solarfest on a farm in Middletown Springs.

Jaya Holliman, a long-time volunteer and organizer, likes how Solafest brings the community together while promoting healthy living.

"You know, you can go and learn how to make your own soaps at home with out putting toxins into the earth, you can learn how to make a net zero house," Holliman explains.

You can learn about straw bale construction, small-scale wind power, bike repair, or how to gather and preserve wild foods. Or you can just go for the music. This year's line up: includes Gold Town, the Wood Brothers, Split Tongue Crow and The Adam Ezra Group.

Festival Director Patty Kenyon says Solarfest hit an all time high of 8,000 visitors in 2008, some from as far as Wisconsin. "Typically, we have people from all over New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania."

But she admits attendance has been dropping in recent years. Jaya Holliman nods.

"This isn't revolutionary anymore. You know at first it was this great, like, 'hey, we can go solar.' 17 years ago, and now people know about this stuff. So maybe Solarfest needs to constantly reinvent itself like any organization."

But Holliman says it can be a difficult event to market.

"Are we a vendor or trade show? Are we a family festival where you can come, camp and see theater in the woods and have kids being happy for three days? Are we a rock concert?"

And perhaps most importantly, she wonders, is the event doing what it set out to do?

"One of the things we're working on is how do we get a measurability out of an event like Solar fest. So we have kids now who are 20 years old who are volunteering year after year that have grown up at Solarfest with their parents. Now they're grown up and they're going to build their house differently. They're going to do a net zero house because they know about it, and they know the vendors," Holliman said. 

Now that may not change the world she says smiling,  but it's a start. 

Solarfest runs July 20th through the 22nd at the Forget-Me-Not Farm in Tinmouth. 

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