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Explore our latest coverage of environmental issues, climate change and more.

SolarFest's Future In Doubt

Nina Keck
Colorful flags and sculptures marked the entrace of SolarFest in 2011.

SolarFest, the 20-year-old alternative energy festival, may be calling it quits. The festival’s Board of Trustees says low attendance and mounting debt forced them to cancel next year’s festivities and the event’s future is unclear.

As an event, SolarFest has always been hard to describe - a blend of live music, art and hands-on workshops heavily flavored with a hippy counterculture and sustainable, alternative energy bent.

First held in 1995 in Middletown Springs, the event has grown and relocated over the years, first to Green Mountain College, and then to Forget Me Not Farm in Tinmouth, it’s home for the last 10 years.

Credit Nina Keck / VPR
Green Mountain College's Kenneth Mulder teaches an agriculture workshop at SolarFest in 2011.

Patty Kenyon, long-time SolarFest Director, says nearly 8,000 people attended the three-day festival in 2008. But since then attendance has dropped and so have sponsors.  Only 3,500 people came to SolarFest this past July, and Kenyon says by the end of the summer the Board of Trustees faced nearly $20,000 of debt and hard choices. “There will not be a 2015 festival,” she says. “There may be some other sort of event and they’re hoping to regroup for 2016.  And the other piece of the puzzle,” adds Kenyon “is the festival will not happen at Forget Me Not Farm. So there’s also a search for a new venue.”

She says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why attendance declined. When they started, Kenyan says renewable energy was just beginning to catch on. Now that it’s more mainstream, she says people may not feel SolarFest is as relevant. But she says she feels happy with what the event has accomplished. “Mostly we were about community organizing and building communities and helping people get going,” says Kenyon. “So what I see as SolarFest’s biggest success is that what we’ve done is be an incubator for a lot of new movements.”

Kenyan stepped down from her paid position as director in late August but has offered to volunteer her time to help the board reduce its debt. “What we are doing is trying to figure out what direction we want to go in,” says Leslie Silver, a member of SolarFest’s Board of Trustees. “We have debt we want to pay off and then see what the energy for future festivals might look like.”

Silver says the board will meet later this month or in early November to plan their next move.

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