EL Art Festival’s Interim Director on Board, Faces Shortage of Volunteers

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Thursday, May 9, 2019, 11:21 am
Mark Meyer

Get the t-shirts printed. Make sure ads are running and merchandise is selling. Check to see if the Food Court is ready to go.

To say that Julie Levy-Weston (pictured above) has been tossed into the East Lansing Art Festival mix might be an understatement.

But thus far she’s making a go of it, with less than 10 days til showtime.

“A bit hectic but we’ll get there,” said Levy-Weston, whose first day on the job as interim director of the East Lansing Art Festival was May 3, a mere two weeks before the 56th annual two-day event takes over several downtown streets.

Levy-Weston fills the position previously held by Michelle Carlson, who was dismissed more than a month ago by City Manager George Lahanas over a financial matter related to festival funding.

Neither Carlson nor Lahanas has returned inquiries regarding her dismissal, and Mayor Mark Meadows reiterated his view this week that East Lansing’s voluntary Art Commission should take over management of the City’s festivals.

Carlson’s untimely dismissal has led to increased responsibilities for Art Festival Board chairperson Alison Alfredson (above), who at this point is concerned with a depleted roster of volunteers in addition to a battered stretch of downtown pavement on M.A.C. Avenue between Grand River Avenue and Albert Avenue.

“The stretch of pavement is liability that needs to be addressed,” said Alfredson, “and I’ve been saying this before Michelle was let go. As it stands right now, it will be very difficult for vendors to set up their staging areas and stabilize their tents if they have to work around large potholes.

“It’s a safety issue for both the vendors and the visitors. The last thing we want is for someone to take a bad step and land in someone’s space, and then down goes their display.”

Alfredson said that City Manager George Lahanas has promised to pave that stretch of road by Wednesday, May 15 – even though it is officially due for extensive repairs later this summer.

“He promised so I expect that he will take care of it,” Alfredson said.

Nicole Bartell, administrative assistant to Lahanas, responded with a prepared statement that said: “Due to ongoing construction, M.A.C. was scheduled for repavement in Summer 2019 once most of the Center City construction is complete. DPW (Department of Public Works) has begun work to improve the condition of the portion of M.A.C. between Grand River and Albert by filling cracks and potholes. Staff will continue these touch ups as needed all the way up to the Art Festival.”

Alfredson is also concerned about a shortage of volunteers. Whereas in years past the festival has been able to attract between 100 and 120 volunteers to work a variety of shifts over three days, this year’s workload appears to be about 40 shifts short.

“Our volunteer orientation night (was Wednesday evening) and, quite frankly, our numbers are down,” Alfredson said. “That’s going to require a massive effort on the part of others to make up for that loss.”

An MSU Museum staff member since 1997, Levy-Weston earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre from MSU, has worked in theatre companies in Michigan and Arizona, and spent three seasons driving cross country as a stage manager for a touring children’s theatre.

Levy-Weston was part of the team that presented the Festival of Michigan Folklife in the late 1980s. Her job responsibilities at the museum include arranging the shipping for the traveling exhibits program, and planning and presentation of special events.

Levy-Weston has been granted a one-month leave of absence by the university in order to serve as interim director of the Art Festival.

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