Many Bella Vistans were disappointed when the long-standing Bella Vista Arts and Crafts Festival didn't return to the area after covid restrictions were raised. One Bella Vista man decided to do something about it.
Dave Edwards is a wood worker who planned to be part of the Arts and Crafts Festival the year it was canceled. He is also the former organizer of a pro/am barbecue contest in Oregon. He knew he could bring back the festival.
"It's kind of a passion," he says. "It would be too much work otherwise."
He recruited two friends, Rick Barnhart and Max Nelson, and they started planning.
"None of us have ever done an event like this one," Barnhart says. "We're sort of bumping around in the dark."
Although he moved to the area recently, Barnhart has been visiting Bella Vista for years. Since he is retired, he was looking for ways to keep busy, so he agreed to help with the festival.
The first step was to form a 501(c)3 so they could be an official nonprofit. Barnhart, who had run a nonprofit before, became the president. Nelson is the vice president, and Edwards took on the dual role of treasurer and festival manager.
Their next step was to contact the Bella Vista Property Owners Association and Cooper Communities Inc., as well as Discover Bella Vista, which serves as the city's advertising and promotions department. CCI owns the property where the Bella Vista Arts and Crafts Festival took place and agreed to let the new committee use it.
For the "Northwest Arkansas Festival, Edwards first envisioned a craft fair with a barbecue contest that would be part of the series of "sanctioned" contests where points are earned for the Kansas City Barbecue Society. But while he was able to get permission to run a sanctioned contest, the funds weren't there. Instead, the committee decided to hold an unsanctioned contest and a youth contest. He plans to add the sanctioned contest next year. There will also be a chili cookoff.
Another Bella Vista resident, Tim Gray, who was a longtime Kansas City barbecue competitor, agreed to teach a half-day barbecue school featuring "competition ribs." Normally a class like that would cost students up to $1,000, but this class is only $50.
Edwards says after choosing Sept. 22-24, they didn't really consider any other dates. Bikes, Blues & BBQ will be the same weekend, as will the new Format Festival in Bentonville. He says officials expect 350,000 people in the area that weekend.
Edwards has seen the number of motorcycles that travel U.S. 71 each year. Craft fairs don't bring in that kind of crowd, he says -- not even the big October weekend that started with the War Eagle Craft Fair.
Also, Barnhart says, the wives of the motorcycle riders need something to do when they come to the rally.
Discover Bella Vista gave the new nonprofit a grant to get the festival started, and the small committee started lining up sponsors.
"It's still early, but the (sponsors) I've talked to have been very positive," Edwards says.
Edwards planned to invite all the vendors who had been at the old festival, but he didn't realize that event organizers don't like to give away their vendor lists. So he had to find another way to develop a list of craft vendors. He spent hours online searching and eventually ended up with a list of 750 vendors and a software program to keep them all organized.
The invitations to the vendors have already gone out and about 70 have reserved a booth, Edwards says. The festival has room for 350.
Since it's a community festival, there will also be space for small businesses to use a booth to reach festivalgoers. There will be an area for kids with bounce houses and lots of games and a music stage.
Several food trucks have been invited and Edwards, who has a connection with a professional barbecue team, plans to borrow a huge professional smoker and recruit some volunteers to serve pulled pork sandwiches and drinks. There will also be a beer tent.
One of the next steps will be to contact groups that may be willing to volunteer to help with everything from parking to set up and tear down. The committee may be able to offer a donation in return for the volunteers.
The event is still evolving. Edwards hopes to have more details to share by the first of July, but the committee decided that, after expenses and prize money are paid, profits will be donated to the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.
"There's a need there," he says, adding that the food bank will probably always be the festival's primary beneficiary.
Northwest Arkansas Festival
When: Sept. 22-24
Where: 1991 Forest Hills Blvd. in Bella Vista