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Mariposa Storytelling Festival: The End?

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MARIPOSA — Festivals across the nation are finding it difficult to continue offering venues for the magical and inspiring art that we call Storytelling.

With rising production costs and dwindling sponsors, ticket sales are unable to cover the cost of producing a nationally recognized Storytelling Festival and, unfortunately, the Mariposa Storytelling Festival is no exception.

After much discussion, organizers of the event sponsored by the Mariposa County Arts Council find they must step back after the upcoming 30th Mariposa Storytelling Festival’s Grand Celebration, March 10 – 12, 2017.

After that, they plan to re-evaluate their role in the “wonderful world of storytelling.” Organizers welcome ideas and suggestions from the public, along with volunteer support, to take the festival to another level.

Featured storytellers this year include Bil Lep, Marilyn McPhie, David Novak, Tim Tingle, Donna Washington, and Kim Weitkamp.

Marilyn Rudzik is the Artistic Director and adviser for the Mariposa Storytelling Festival, and explains it was originally the vision of Linda Johnson, who worked for the Mariposa Chamber of Commerce at the time. Linda thought it would be a good idea to have a storytelling festival to bring people into town during the off-season. The chamber ran the event until the Arts Council took it over 22 years ago.

When Marilyn got involved, she says, she knew nothing about storytelling. She researched events by attending other festivals and soon the Arts Council started bringing in nationally and internationally known tellers, including some of the best in the nation. Local schools may feel the loss deeply when the festival expires, as their students were among the beneficiaries of the art form.

“Storytelling is the first educational tool and it still works,” says Marilyn. “It is something that is needed in the curriculum. Our storytellers go out to the Mariposa County Schools, North Fork, Spring Valley, Oakhurst Elementary School, Wasuma, Sonora, Greeley Hill, Fresno, Reedley, and Visalia schools. A mix of storytellers from different cultures, backgrounds and with different ways of telling a story, would be at any number of schools with the outreach. This affects a whole bunch of schools as well as the tellers. Principals love it and always look forward to it.”

For two years, Marilyn has run the festival remotely, operating out of her home in Humboldt County where she now lives with family. This is the last year she wants to be in charge from out of town. When asked what people can do to help bring the storytelling fest back, perhaps even in a new form, the seasoned organizer’s response is simple.

“The can volunteer to take it over!” she laughs. “It has been fun and I’ve gotten to know so many tellers, who are wonderful people to work with. They are great, and I have friends all across the nation.” Marilyn is now on the board of the Storytelling Association of California.

According to the director, there are festivals going on all across the nation, For instance, there’s a storytelling fest in Utah that brings in about fifteen thousand people every year, with big corporate sponsors, and local universities sending kids to volunteer. A Bay Area storytelling in California, however, reached its 30th and ended it last year. She says the only big event left in California is the Sierra Storytelling Festival in Nevada City in July. The reasons boil down to simple economics.

“Costs go up and sponsors go down. You do need to have sponsors that support it. People like to see it come to town but you need help or to raise ticket prices to the point that no one would come. We pay for the rental of the high school auditorium and every room we use. Then, airline flights shoot up. The storytellers fly in on Thursday and stay through Sunday. We usually go to Yosemite on Sunday afternoon but, last year, we had to haul up our own sound system, and pay more rent.”

The Mariposa Storytelling Festival may have reached its 30th year, and will undergo changes in the future, but no one so far is ready to say it’s over for good. Possibilities include more Story Slams, Story Swaps, organizing a youth Storytelling group, having a storyteller come for a concert and a week-long school teller-in-residence program, or bringing in one or two nationally known storytellers for a special performance.

Meanwhile, save the date for the 30th annual celebration of this age-old art on the second weekend in March, 2017, and enjoy a star-studded line-up of some of the top entertainers in our nation, with unforgettable stories in a magnificent setting.

Organizers say don’t miss the Grand Finale Brunch and Stories with the Tellers Party, on Sunday morning, Mar. 12, 2017, to celebrate the 30-year run of this storytelling gem of a festival.

“We want to make the 30th a great party,” Marilyn adds, “so the band boosters will help with concessions, and there’s a pancake breakfast at Mariposa Senior Center. Come to the brunch where storytellers will be featured and will tell their final stories and wrap up the fest at that point. We have six featured tellers every year, and the majority of these are Smithsonian, Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall — big names in the story telling world!”

The Mariposa County Arts Council, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization, created to promote and support all forms of the cultural arts, for all ages, throughout Mariposa County, and is funded in part by Mariposa County, the California Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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