Bucks County Playhouse (BCP) and the Bridge Street Foundation in recent times have positioned themselves as rescuers of troubled, “iconic” properties, including the former Club Zadar, New Hope Visitor’s Center, Four Seasons Mall, two of the oldest residences in the borough, the First Baptist Church of Lambertville, and renting a healthy portion of the Artworks Building at 12 W. Mechanic St.
But the Playhouse’s latest venture with a self-declared autonomous group of New Hope Chamber of Commerce members planning the 2015 Arts & Crafts Festival may prove far more contentious than previous endeavors.
This year’s event will be held on Sept. 26 and 27 at the New Hope-Solebury High School at 180 West Bridge Street. “Bucks County Playhouse has stepped up this year to assure the iconic Festival’s continuing existence,” reads the group’s press release.
The festival itself has always been a controversial affair, often criticized by business owners for drawing business away from local art and craft galleries. And festival expenses in recent years have ballooned faster than income, and lacked detailed accounting.
The Arts & Crafts Festival has been associated with the New Hope Chamber of Commerce for years, and some officials there are appalled to see a major income earner for the group spin off and offer to dump its proceeds into the coffers of the BCP Visitor’s Center. New Hope Chamber leadership appears to have been made aware by early this year that Arts & Crafts organizers were thinking of jumping ship and joining up Bucks County Playhouse. But they appear to have been caught off-guard by news that the deal had been finalized.
Also drawing attention is the legality of a chamber of commerce committee going independent, particularly when the Arts & Crafts Festival information and event applications continue to be hosted on the New Hope Chamber of Commerce website. Two New Hope Chamber officials appeared stunned when shown that fees payable to the “BCP Arts & Crafts Festival” were being advertised and processed through the chamber website.
And although the BCP Arts & Crafts Festival is advertising itself on the New Hope Chamber site, “all proceeds from this year’s Festival will benefit the nonprofit Playhouse in its operation of the New Hope Visitors Center, located on South Main Street,” according to the New Hope Arts & Crafts festival press release.
So when and why did New Hope Chamber of Commerce Arts & Crafts Festival members decide to take the event and run with it? The Bucks County Playhouse did not respond to questions about their role in the festival, the organizational structure or form of entity that has been created, whom is in charge from the BCP side, how much money has been committed thus far, whom is being paid, and why and when they undertook the decision to take on the breakaway group.
Arts & Crafts Festival organizers were more forthcoming. “Applications have always gone out by January, so in February we needed to get started or the festival would lose quality exhibitors,” explained Festival Coordinator Sharon Flanagan in a statement that included a link to the New Hope Chamber website below her name. “When the Chamber was on hiatus and appeared to be going down, BCP stepped up to take on the Visitor’s Center and the Arts & Crafts Festival, so one could support the other to benefit New Hope.
“Linda Rowe and I are volunteer coordinators, and this year I will be paid for doing the administration work, as others have been in the past,” added Flanagan. “They [BCP] have brought their professional team of managers, marketers, volunteers, insurance, and other relationships to further promote the festival, which surpasses what we’ve had in the past.” Flanagan has served in a variety of official capacities at the New Hope Chamber and the festival for many years.
Her colleague Rowe seems to date the decision to secede a month earlier, saying, “By January we were in a position where we had to cancel or go forward. With no viable Chamber in the foreseeable future we needed to decide the fate of the 2015 show.”
Rowe goes on in her statement to say, “I understand that the Chamber needs money, but we are too far into the event to make changes now.”
“The very people who put the nail in the coffin of the New Hope Chamber of Commerce are back to de-fund it and make sure it stays dead,” observed Joel Roberts, owner of Mechanic Street Mugs and a member of the group that resurrected the organization after it went AWOL last fall.
But can the New Hope Chamber of Commerce survive financially without the ample profits from the Arts & Crafts Festival, which hit a high of approximately $40,000 in 2013?
“The New Hope Chamber of Commerce will continue to fund its operations through membership fees, one responsible step at a time,” said Jim Jolly of the chamber board of directors.
Of course, New Hope’s Arts & Craft Festival is no stranger to controversy.
The group was at the center of an imbroglio last year around cash awards given to New Hope Chamber of Commerce officials at 2013 holiday party in which “the co-chairs of Arts and Crafts authorized disbursements of $3,600 of cash awards. The two co-chairs (Connie Gering and Linda Rowe) and Sharon Flanagan each received a $1,000 award, and Linda Rowe was authorized to convert $600 into ‘crisp bills’ to be given to key Committee members,” according to a chamber document prepared in December, 2013 by then Vice-President Roger Green entitled “Financial Problems.”
That document was purportedly shown to then-president Gering, board member Brandon Wind, Flanagan, and the chamber office manager, among others, in various forms in the weeks following the Holiday Party. Gering is a former New Hope Chamber of Commerce President, former Arts & Crafts Festival organizer, current festival committee participant, and is a member of New Hope Borough Council who was involved in discussions about leasing the New Hope visitor’s center to the Bucks County Playhouse.
Green said in June, 2014 that he found out that something was wrong with chamber finances some ten days following the organization’s holiday party on Dec. 14, 2013 when he received a call from Gering saying there was an immediate monetary shortfall that needed to be addressed.
As Green continued probing, he said, evidence quickly revealed that one of the award checks in question had been given to Flanagan.
Agreed, Piotr. Even if the money was given back it’s no less unseemly – doing the right thing after getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar doesn’t really count. And yes, New Hope is really lucky to have Charlie around. It may be a tiny town but more goes on than in most towns 10x the size.
I don’t understand why Sharon Flanagan is so upset about the check, she just admitted she still have the check.. And why she’s getting so upset with Charlie? He writes what people tell him to write he’s just telling people’s stories.He is Our Small Town News Man:-)
Rumor has it that the BCP will be taking- over the operations of the NEW HOPE CANAL/ BARGE RIDES next…
Looks like Fernandez, current Concession- holder, defaulted on the State’s demand to start the Concession, i.e. Mule Barge Rides, by June 5th, or lose it.
This just in…..” New Hope Arts and Crafts has just signed a deal with FIFA, when contacted Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s controversial Grand Wizard explained that it is always good when you find an organization that does business the same way “we” do……the interim president of the local New Hope chamber added that although I don’t generally listen to people unless they have lived here for several years, this ‘Sepp guy’ really seems to think like we do, it’s a great marriage of like minded folks, plus his name reminds me of the Three Stooges”
Onward and upward…….Tongue removed from cheek in disgust.
The only faulty bookkeeping was done by the treasurer.
At no time have you ever published that $1000 rewards and more were returned to the Chamber in less than 30 days, Charlie, and I still have my check since it was never cashed.
If the people who stepped up to save the Chamber had joined the board a few months sooner, the New Hope Chamber would have both the Visitor’s Center and the Festival. None of them stepped up at that time.
Shame on you for believing lies and telling only half-truths.