Waking Up With Nightmares

Pat Gold portrait final

A History in Delta’s Customer Service Drives the Founder of Riverfest In Organizing Two Art Festivals in Cherokee

Pat Gold had 15 years in customer service with Delta before she chaired Cherokee County’s first Riverfest, held in 1985. Pat is pictured in front of the Cherokee Arts Center, where from 2011-2012, she was also Chair of Canton Festival of the Arts, held annually the third weekend in May. In the past decade, she has served in numerous community endeavors, including the Tourism and Main Street programs in Canton, as well as the Canton Planning Commission.

This story is part of a series featuring local leaders, volunteers and visionaries, some behind the scenes, who have had an impact on the community. For more on Gold’s story and the accompanying portrait, visit www.annlitrel.com

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If I have any creativity, this is it. You know, I don’t create art – but I can organize it.

Pat Gold offers this snippet about her part in Cherokee County’s first Riverfest, now approaching its 30th anniversary. The arts and crafts festival was conceived by her as a fundraiser for the County’s Junior Service League, a group whose mission is to help needy children and their families with direct aid and scholarships. Riverfest takes place every September in Canton’s Boling Park on the Etowah River, drawing attendees from across metro Atlanta and north Georgia.

Exuding brisk cheer and an air of capability, Pat escorts me into an empty classroom at the Cherokee Arts Center for our interview, offering more than once to help carry my bags, microphone and lights. She explains that her “current baby” is the Canton Festival of the Arts, a juried spring artist fair at the Arts Center, fast approaching the weekend of May 17 and 18.

Tell me about your role in Riverfest.

“Riverfest was started in the early 80’s,” she says. “Back then, craft fairs were fairly new but gaining in popularity. One horrible rainy morning, I got the idea of launching a crafts fair in the County as the Service League’s fundraiser. Judy Bishop and I took the idea to the board, and they gave us the green light.”

What were some of the challenges?

“It was a huge undertaking. We worked for two years to develop the first Riverfest.” She names the divisions of labor: the artist’s market, the children’s area, concessions, entertainment, advertising and PR. Each was organized by one of the core committee members, whom Pat lists as herself, Judy Bishop, Rebecca Johnston, Debra Goodwin, Lila Stevens, and Ann Rupel.

“Recruiting artists was a critical element,” she continues. “If you’re starting from scratch, you have to convince them that you are going to be successful.” She names local potter Ron Cooper as being “instrumental” in recruiting artists and getting the word out in the arts community.

Did you have any organizing experience before this?

“I had been working at Delta almost 15 years as an in-flight service coordinator. I grew up with Delta, and they taught me everything I know about customer service. Making a successful arts festival is all about customer service – helping the artists unpack, getting their things to their space, babysitting their booth when they want to take a break…everything to make it a good experience so they’ll come back next year. Without them, we don’t have a festival.”

How did Riverfest measure up to your vision?

“It was even better than we had hoped. Boling Park was a perfect setting. The Riverfest name was my husband’s suggestion – and it stuck.” She smiles. “The first year, we had 107 artists, 10,000 people came through the gates, and we earned a profit of almost $10,000. Of course, it’s grown since then.” [In 2013, the 28th annual Riverfest included 151 exhibitors, and earned over $70,000.]

Pat adds a personal remembrance. “As the opening day got close,” this organizer admits,” I was waking up with nightmares, imagining a festival that no one came to. I really didn’t relax until that first morning.” She shakes her head.

“When the first wave of people came down that hill, it was like a dream come true.”

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