Community festivals don’t just happen. Each of the events held every year in Gig Harbor and on the Key Peninsula require dozens of staff members and volunteers who work diligently in the background to book permits, organize vendors, coordinate public safety and sanitation, and perform countless other tasks and details. The fact that these festivals seem to go off every year without a hitch belies how much hard work goes into making sure they look seamless.
Most of the people responsible for organizing annual events, such as the Maritime Gig Festival or KeyFest, receive little notoriety beyond a few quotes in the newspaper. However, our cover story this week puts the founder and driving force behind this weekend’s Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival in the spotlight.
By all accounts, Mary Bessette would have been uncomfortable with the publicity. She was a humble woman who preferred to shepherd others to the forefront, according to her friends and family members.
Sadly, Bessette passed away in June, 14 months after she was diagnosed with cancer. She was only 56. Bessette’s friends and family contacted us after her death, hoping to honor the woman they remembered both as an artistic influence and a supportive friend.
This weekend’s festival is the 29th iteration of Bessette’s original idea, which she hatched shortly after she moved to Gig Harbor from southern California in the early 1980s. The event, which is expected to draw an estimated 15,000 people to downtown Gig Harbor, would not exist without Bessette’s vision. She knew many artists, and she knew they wanted to show their work to the public. Why not have a street fair that made all that happen?
As she was inspired from festivals in which she’d participated while she was in California, Bessette created the first Gig Harbor Summer Art Festival while she was pregnant with her son, Chazz. In the years since, as chairwoman and then as elder stateswoman, Bessette was a central presence during the annual fair. Her booth, stocked with examples of her work in jewelry, stained glass and fused glass, was a festival fixture.
The festival she created will host 125 artists from around the Northwest in booths that will line Judson Street just east of Pioneer Way. Guests will be able to shop and admire artists’ handiwork, and children will be able to participate in a number of hands-on activities.
In the parking lot at Key Bank, the festival’s major sponsor, live music, food and other entertainment will take place throughout on Saturday and Sunday. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 20 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 21.
The Summer Art Festival is the crown jewel of the Peninsula Art League, a member organization for artists of every medium from around the region. PAL organizes year-round classes, showcases and other events for its member artists, but the festival is the organization’s biggest and brightest display of the artistic talent found in Gig Harbor and beyond.
Bessette did not hold an official role within the Peninsula Art League. Rather, she was one of its many members, albeit one unusually dedicated to the promotion of her fellow artists.
That’s true of the people behind most of the biggest, best events in our community.
The civic traditions of our summers all started out as the brainchildren of someone like Mary Bessette. They were kept under the radar but had an idea for a way to improve the city in which they live.
Bessette had enough friends, and knew enough people, to help her get the job done.
As always, PAL will have an informational booth set up at this year’s festival at the Key Bank parking lot. Between browsing art, sampling food and listening to music, take a few moments to stop by and chat with the artists at the booth. Thank them for their work.
Our story on page A1 this week is a remembrance for an influential woman who gave us this community event and who is gone too soon. But we should also make sure we thank the members of our community who continue her legacy and diligently work behind the scenes to bring events like this to our city.