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Robin Elander (left) and Mitchell Kriegman

Paul Wellman (file)

Robin Elander (left) and Mitchell Kriegman


Arts Festivals Still Reeling from Fire and Flood

PuppetPalooza Struggles to Pay Vendors and Creditors


Arts promoter Mitchell Kriegman could not have picked a worse time to schedule this year’s PuppetPalooza puppet fest if he tried. The day his festival was scheduled to start, March 1, mass evacuations were ordered from Goleta to Carpinteria in anticipation of mudslides and debris flows triggered by heavy rains. It would be Santa Barbara’s fourth major evacuation since the Thomas Fire erupted December 4. Making matters worse, temperatures tanked.

The kids and families Kriegman hoped to attract may not have stayed away in droves, but attendance was significantly less than projected. Kriegman had to discount ticket prices ​— ​giving some seats away for free ​— ​to get what crowds he got. The festival may have been an artistic success, Kriegman said, but it was a financial nightmare.

Ten days after the festival finished, Kriegman sent out an SOS to those holding IOUs. He offered vendors and creditors 25 cents on every dollar he owed them. So far, some have accepted, some have said no, and others are still mulling over their options. No one, to date, has sued.

Kriegman said he’d thought about canceling the festival, but opted against it. Santa Barbara’s Fiesta parade and Earth Day celebrations, he noted, both emerged in the wake of their own disasters ​— ​the 1925 earthquake and the oil spill of 1969. “We wanted to double down, to do something good that would bring the community out,” he said.

Kriegman is not alone. Fundraising for this year’s Summer Solstice celebration is about $200,000 below what it needs to be. Festival organizer Robin Elander sent out a social media appeal via GoFundMe two weeks ago warning that without significant infusions of cash, this year’s show might not go on. To date, her appeal has generated $3,000.

In the wake of this winter’s natural disasters, Santa Barbara philanthropic winds have shifted dramatically; high-art puppet shows and flash mobs of Brazilian dancers have less priority on the community’s collective purse strings. Solstice typically attracts about 90,000 observers and about 1,000 participants. This year’s Solstice would be its 44th. When asked how dire the circumstances really were, Elander replied, “It’s somewhere between somewhat and significantly dire.”

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