Features July 19, 2019

Still At It: Producing the Greeley Arts Picnic Ain’t Just A Day In The Park

by Dan England

There are days when Rhonda Welch stares out her window at the sun and thinks about her vegetable garden.

“It’s such a nice day out there,” Welch said on a sunny Monday afternoon. It was a nice change from all the rain and hail that forced her to run outside and get pelted by ice marbles to cover her precious plants with tarps. There’s been a lot of that lately.

But even on this lovely day, Welch was indoors, proofing ads and answering her chirping smartphone for the upcoming Greeley Arts Picnic. As the festival coordinator for the City of Greeley, it’s Welch’s job to organize the event as well as others such as Neighborhood Nights and Festival of Trees. It’s literally her job, as she doesn’t have a staff, other than a little help from the parks workers to set things up in downtown Lincoln Park and some administrative assistance.

Rhonda Welch, Festival Coordinator for the City of Greeley in Lincoln Park, home of the 41st annual Greeley Arts Picnic July 27. Photo by Kevin Johnston

That means she’s the one answering the calls from close to 150 artists and crafters, 24 performers (including 18 music groups) more than a dozen food vendors and representatives at Coors for the beer garden. She’s spends most of June and July inside so you can be outside in Lincoln Park the weekend of July 27.

Her reward, other than a steady paycheck, comes when she watches the thousands of people from all over Colorado (and the country) enjoying themselves listening to live music, picking over original artwork or doing crafts with their kids. “There’s an aura of happiness,” Welch said.

Trapeze buskers, as well as several music acts add to the fun, centered around the sale of visual art spread throughout Lincoln Park.

She doesn’t know how long she will continue, but she’s been with the Picnic since the beginning, 40 years ago or so, when she worked as a volunteer. Later the city hired her in 1988 at the Union Colony Civic Center before she landed her current position as Arts Picnic guru.

The Picnic started in 1979 when a group of fine artists wanted a way to show off their work, and it’s remained a juried art show to this day. Welch says that means handmade, high-quality work is the only fare sold at the show. That helps separate it from the hundreds of summer festivals around the state. 

An art vendor from the 2018 Arts Picnic inspires a young art fan.

Some events feature “artists” who mass produce crafts or buy stuff from China and sell it at twice the rate. The Arts Picnic won’t allow any of that, and the other vendors check their booth-neighbors to make sure it doesn’t go on.

“It makes a difference,” Welch said. “We know for a fact that people really admire that (standard of originality) and the idea of getting something hand-made by someone.”

Yet the show remains affordable, led by a slew of young local artists and anchored by a few favorites. Welch has outlasted some of those old favorites, showing just how long she’s stayed there, but recognizes the importance of the new, stating: “It’s so wonderful to have this younger generation of really talented artists in town.”

Welch likes to change up the music every year, but there are old favorites too, including the Kream of the Krop swing band, the Kiwanis Red Shirt Band, Wendy Woo and Funkiphino, who headline the Arts Picnic kickoff the night before on Friday, July 26.

Funkiphino headline the Arts Picnic Kickoff event Friday, July 26, the night before the picnic.

“The Arts Picnic keeps people busy all year long,” Welch said, which goes for her too. She gets calls, in fact, after the Picnic, from people who went and wanted to know how to contact an artist so they can, say, buy a Christmas present.

There are always challenges, such as attracting the younger families who buy houses on the West side of Greeley and don’t ever visit downtown. And it can be exhausting to think of the next year and all she has to do to get the picnic running. But she’s always up for it. At least for now.

“At the beginning of the year, I think to myself, ‘How the heck am I going to get this done,” Welch said. “But I have a group of volunteers who love it and are committed to it. They see the importance of it and so do I.”

The Greeley Arts Picnic kicks-off at 7 pm, July 26 with a free Friday Fest concert by Funkiphono on the 9th Street Plaza. The Picnic itself is held in downtown Greeley’s Lincoln Park on Saturday, July 27 from 9am to 5pm and Sunday, July 28 from 10 am to 4 pm.

There’s live music all day, with food, a beer garden, activities for kids and booths from nearly 150 artists in a juried art show. Admission is free. For a complete schedule and shuttle information visit http://greeleygov.com/activities/arts-picnic.