With summer ending and storm windows sliding shut, Sussex County will soon settle into autumn’s kaleidoscopic rotunda. The Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, however, will not wait for the deciduous trees to beget brilliance along the Delaware coast.
The association’s 27th annual Boardwalk Arts Festival, set for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 10, expects to infuse Bethany Beach with more color than a Hunter Thompson daydream, as the Atlantic Ocean provides wallpaper for the alfresco showrooms of more than 100 artists.
“The backdrop is the most unique thing. Being up on the boardwalk is actually the biggest draw,” said Amy Tingle, events coordinator for the chamber. “And for the most part, we’ve had nice weather throughout the years.”
Some of the participating artists live within walking distance. Locals include: Jennifer Carter, Bethany Beach; Justin Cavagnaro, Dagsboro; Susan Clarke, Dagsboro; Kay Crum, Dagsboro; Barbara Deitrick, Dagsboro; Kim Doughty, Dagsboro; Aubre Duncan, Ocean View; Terry and Aletha Gilbert, Bethany Beach; Laura Hickman, Bethany Beach; Mark Reeve, Millville; and Ralph Semsker, Dagsboro.
Out-of-towners hail from as far away as Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., or Hillsboro, Vt.
And the inventories they all offer — glassware, woodwork, ceramics, crafts, fine art and jewelry — are as diverse as their points of origin.
“We try to showcase a wide variety of works, so we don’t really focus on any one theme,” Tingle said. “There’s something for everybody.”
To secure display space, exhibitor must withstand the scrutiny of an arts festival jury, comprising artists and art professionals from the Delmarva area. (The chamber also employs a jeweler to assure the bling is authentic and not mass produced).
“It used to be a free-for-all. Now it’s almost a competition between the artists,” Tingle said. “Offering high-quality works side-by-side really makes the show.”
The swarms of spectators and shoppers, like the show’s artists, will come from near and far. The chamber staff expects the free festival to attract between 8,000 and 10,000 attendees, according to Tingle.
“A lot of people mark their calendars for this show months prior,” she said. “A lot of people are there shopping hours before the show even begins.”
The fair kicks off the business community’s shoulder-season schedule — an itinerary of post-Labor Day attractions designed to entice tourists.
“It used to be that come Labor Day, the town cleared out,” Tingle said. “The festival is a nice draw after people do leave town to bring them back for a weekend.”
Festival-related spoils, furthermore, extend beyond the artists and the chamber. The event planners can guarantee spillover commerce for local restaurants since food vendors are prohibited from setting up stands on the boardwalk as part of the festival.
And the Chamber’s cut of the proceeds goes to The Quiet Resorts Charitable Foundation (QRCF). The chamber created the QRCF in 2001 to facilitate the funding of community-oriented organizations.
The Arts Festival will also feature a silent auction, closing at 3 p.m., to benefit the arts curriculums at the four local elementary schools.
“Without art and music programs, it makes for students who aren’t well rounded,” Tingle said. “The artists recognize [the students] are the artists of the future. And if we don’t support these programs, there would be a whole lot less artists in the area.”