What Sweet Pea Festival and SLAM Festival Will Look Like This Year

Cassie Pfannenstiel

The Sweet Pea Festival is one of the highlights of summer in Bozeman. It is a three-day, family-friendly festival with a mission of “promoting and cultivating the arts.” The festival usually features a long list of activities for people of all ages: “music of all genres, performances by local theater and dance troupes, workshops, family-friendly entertainment and activities, a flower show, a beer and wine garden featuring Montana micro brews, and over 100 arts and crafts vendors.” However, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing restrictions on groups of over 50, the festival will look different this year.

I recently spoke with Sweet Pea’s Executive Director Kris Olenicki about what it’s been like to plan for a modified festival. We discussed planning events with limited funds, adhering to CDC guidelines and the importance of Sweet Pea in Bozeman culture.

In terms of planning for the modified festival this year, Olenicki says that it has been difficult without their usual funding from admissions. “It’s all about what we can do that doesn’t cost a lot of money and works with social distancing.” The focus has been put towards boosting local artists and putting on events that will help those people financially during these difficult times. Sweet Pea is doing its best to try and “raise money... to give some sort of payment to those who would have been performing or would have been renting us our stages and providing sound.” She mentioned that Sweet Pea’s economic impact in 2015 was $1.7 million over the week of the festival and that number has only increased over the years. Not only are the performers and artists affected by the lack of a regular festival this year, she says “the whole of Downtown Bozeman is affected as well.” They will be able to put on the modified festival this year using reserves saved up from previous festivals along with a large donation from US Bank and support from community members.

Though some events like the children’s and adult’s runs are cancelled, as well as the parade and usual set up of vendors at Lindley park, there will still be events to attend. Sweet Pea is partnering with SLAM this year to put on the Sweet SLAM Tour d’Arte & Auction. Olenicki describes how the event came about and what to expect: “We emailed all the people who applied as arts and crafts vendors and asked if they wanted to be part of it. We’re going to do a map and people can tour around on Saturday, August 8th from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM. There will be a map available and you just visit the places. And everybody who participates is going to donate a piece to the auction, which will go throughout that whole week: August 4th-9th. Sweet Pea will put in some one-of-a-kind posters that are sold out. Then the original art from this year’s poster, framed courtesy of the Art Shop.” Olenicki continues about the partnership: “SLAM and Sweet Pea collaborate on quite a few things; people just don’t know about it. There’s the art projects that we’ve done; SLAM commissioned the bike rack in Lindley Park, and we put in money for it. We worked together on the mural in Bogert Park at the swimming pool there. There are definitely things we work on together, always of course towards the art-end.”

In addition to the online auction and art show, the Juried Art Show will be running July 10th-August 14th at ERA Landmark downtown and participants are asked to wear masks and socially distance. The annual Chalk on the Walk is still happening; chalk will be available for pick up at the Sweet Pea office and will be pre-packaged to minimize contact. Participants will be asked to maintain a six-foot distance between themselves and others on the sidewalk. The Chord Rustlers are still putting on their annual Tater Pig fundraiser and will be providing drive-through service. For children, there will be an online program as well as a Lion King experience, with a potential in-person event at Lindley Park.

The festival began in 1978, as a celebration of local arts and has been a summer staple ever since. Olenicki says the festival is “such a part of Bozeman. I mean every year when we have the parade, we have so many people who do their high school reunions over Sweet Pea weekend.” The Sweet Pea banners are still up downtown; Olenicki says it was important to have them up despite not having the normal festival. “It was important for us to do something, to make it seem a little bit like we’re trying to have some Sweet Pea aura for the week… it’s been such a part of Bozeman’s history and so many people who have gone to school here will come back for it. People who lived here and moved away will come back for it. It’s just been a tradition for years.”

In response to the pandemic, Olenicki urges participants to be cautious. “We’re telling everybody that they have to please go by the CDC guidelines, even if it’s an artist setting up a booth in front their house. People have to follow precautions: wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other. In everything that we’re doing, we’re encouraging everyone to abide by the CDC rules and those from Gallatin County Health.”

Looking ahead to 2021, Sweet Pea hopes to feature its regular acts and a new theater act that was scheduled for this year. Olenicki mentioned a new young producer looking to perform on the festival’s theater stage next year. She said, “We were going to do it this year and now we’re going to do it next year - so I’m very excited about that. He lived in Bozeman and now lives in the Flathead Valley, but he’s looking to come down here. Many of the usual folks who are on our stages will be there next year: Spontaneous Combustibles, Intermountain Opera, a few of the people we booked for the family stage are coming back next year as well. We’ll have a lot of our usual dance folks and everything too.” Though there is hope for a return to normalcy next summer, Olenicki emphasizes the uncertainty of their plans. Next year’s festival will all depend on the availability of funding, but she remains optimistic, promising next year “to work on it to make it really great.”

If you’re looking for ways to support Sweet Pea this year, the best way is to purchase merchandise and a “wristband,” although there isn’t a particular event to purchase a wristband for.    

The best places to find developing information are on the SLAM and Sweet Pea Festival websites:

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