September 30, 2021 By Lynn Davison
The Patagonia Fall Festival has morphed over time due to leadership changes and, well, just because it’s Patagonia. The Festival’s roots began in 1981 with a show of local art at Cady Hall. The next year Annie Mihalik, with help from Martha Kelly, organized a local arts festival in the park. Their goal was to promote local artists. For seven years Mihalik led the totally volunteer effort to produce the Fall Arts festival. Mihalik’s contribution was large and not well acknowledged by the Town, according to Kelly. While crowds were relatively small during this time, sales were good for local artists.
In 1988, The Town of Patagonia began financially supporting the event and it officially became the Patagonia Fall Festival. Shirley Treat and Jean English managed it for a few years and then the job went to Pete and Kaz Workheiser. During these times, there was a shift to more outside vendors, crowds grew, sales grew, and both the artists and the Town benefited.
Kelly recalled that the “Workheisers made a special effort to support vendors throughout the Festival with continental breakfasts and other refreshments.” While the Fall Festival remained primarily focused on art, there were also nonprofit and political booths. Live music was always a big part of the festivities.
Kaz Workheiser retired after coordinating the Festival for over 25 years, a remarkable tenure and gift to the community. It was a challenging and sometimes thankless task. The Town then contracted with Sky Islands Tourist Association (SITA) to put on the Fall Festival. Bonnie McClean led the effort for three years, as the Festival grew to approximately 125 vendors. The expansion of vendors beyond arts and crafts folks as well as more vendors from out of state created a different vibe.
In 2018, SITA hired the Tucson based Southern Arizona Arts and Culture Alliance (SAACA) to manage the Festival. The transition to SAACA management had some rough spots, but the show went on.
2018 was the year of the big rain at the Fall Festival. Tarps prevailed, visitors and vendors were damp but not deterred. 2019 was the year of the crowds. Over 20,000 visited Patagonia during the weekend event. There were 200 vendors, a large number from out of the region or out of state. It was so crowded that sales dropped considerably as many people were unable to get to booths to purchase anything. Food ran out too. As Linda Shore, president of SITA said “it was ugly.” 2020 was the year of covid and the Fall Festival was cancelled.
The 2021 Fall Festival, October 9 – 10 in the Town Park, will again be managed by SAACA. There will be ten food trucks and lots of live music. The maximum number of vendors has been dropped from 200 to 90 to reduce crowds and limit potential spread of covid. The space will be better structured to support viewing and selling of arts and crafts. The refocus on showcasing art will mean no political booths and nonprofit booths unless they have art to sell. Vendors will be limited to those from southern Arizona to return to a more local feel. The Fall Festival will be rebranded as the Sky Islands Fall Artisan Market to emphasize the tourism focus in the Sky Island region of Sonoita, Elgin, and Patagonia and to reinforce the concept of selling local products to support local small businesses, wineries, artists and craftspeople.
The Sky Islands Fall Artisan Market may sound like a mouthful for those used to calling it just “Festival,” but what’s being planned actually sounds quite familiar, even a little more like the “old days.” So, invite friends and family members to Patagonia on October 9-10 to enjoy the Fall Artisan Market.