Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fringe Festival Closes Five Weeks Early Amid Questions

Evie Gulick, founding member of Chansonette Theater and City Councilman Mike Fleck--
and also an actor with Chansonette--on opening day of the Fringe Fest.

Posted by: Noël Jones

When I first heard that there was going to be a fringe festival in the West Ward this summer, it was from an irate resident. The festival was already in the midst of controversy even before being announced, because apparently our West Ward rep on city council, Mike Fleck, had volunteered a residential block in the West Ward for the festival without getting approval from the residents first. Residents fought it,
and the festival was moved to the block of 12th Street between Northampton and Spring Garden streets, next to Paxinosa elementary. 

Despite the bumpy start, I was excited and ran down to the site to snap a photo of the block where it would be held, and posted to this blog with a letter from Evie Gulick, founder of Chansonette Theatre, calling for volunteers.  I had heard of Chansonette Theater, but had not seen any of their performances, and have been generally dismayed not to be seeing more theater and performance art productions in general in Easton, a city that once boasted 12 theaters within its city limits. When I heard "fringe festival" I immediately thought of Edinborough--a city in Scotland, famous in the theater and performance world for its annual fringe festival. Everywhere where I have lived in the U.S., friends I have had in the theater world have talked about wanting to submit a piece to this fringe festival, which is a days-long festival that features performances of all kinds--primarily theater--but also performance art, performance poets, puppetry, dance, mime, music, etc. Another famous fringe festival is New York's annual fringe festival. So although I knew the scale of a fringe festival in Easton would be much smaller, I was eager to see Chansonette perform (since the festival was ostensibly a fundraiser for this struggling community theater company) and also to see what other theater companies and performance artists would come out of the woodwork to perform.

The idea behind the fringe fest was that it would run simultaneously and in conjunction with the Art of Urban Environments Festival--a visual arts festival produced by Lafayette College and the City of Easton this summer, funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, involving outdoor art installations around the city. But when I talked to folks at Lafayette associated with the arts festival, they seemed perplexed as to how the Fringe Fest had come about at all--as it was not mentioned in the NEA grant--but they agreed to help out to a small degree.

I attended the kick-off for the Fringe Fest, heard the speeches by Mayor Panto, Evie Gulick, and the President of Lafayette College, Dan Weiss. I was surprised to hear that the festival was planned to run 16 weeks, concurrently with the arts festival, and that Chansonette Theater was depending on this fundraiser to be able to continue producing theater in Easton. Considering the festival was free, I was wondering a) how it could possibly be sustained for that long, and b) how it could possibly make enough money to raise money above the costs to support the theater. I was also very confused about how the festival came about in the first place, and what the individual roles of the City of Easton, Lafayette and Chansonette were. Asking around didn't do much to clarify. I took pictures of the Asphalt Orchestra, a New York marching band (which was great), and posted an announcement on the home page of my blog that the Fringe Fest would be happening every Saturday.

After about a month, I sat down with Evie Gulick to talk about the history of Chansonette Theater and its contribution to the community, and to find out more about the Fringe Fest. She showed me many photos and programs from 120 musical theater performances produced in 62 years in Easton. As for partnering with Lafayette College, it seemed that most of that support had come during a couple of shows for which Lafayette donated theater space and equipment for rehearsals in the past. There had been a heartbreaking disappointment in the State Theatre, who had asked Chansonette actors to volunteer with painting and other maintenance work on the theater, with the understanding that it would become home to Chansonette for producing community theater in between other shows. But once the repairs and painting were done, the State Theatre (previous to the current owner) changed its mind and decided not to include a community theater element at all. So the theater company had persevered through community support that had been unpredictable at best over the years.

Chansonette continued on, holding fundraisers to fund its shows, gradually aging over time. As much as they hoped to attract younger actors, interest in community theater dwindled among the younger set, and the company continued to age into the present, when, according to Evie's husband Charles, approximately 75% of the theater company are now senior citizens. During my interview with Evie, what concerned me most, was that the Fringe Fest would involve no theater and very little performance at all, outside of musical performances in the band shell that was provided by the city. Chansonette would not be performing, as they had been recruited to run the festival. When I talked to Evie (who looks fabulous for being in her 80s, by the way), she had been told that the NEA had requested that the city receiving the grant produce a fringe festival for the community, and that the City of Easton had been too overwhelmed and had asked Chansonette Theater to produce the fringe festival, and that it could be a fundraiser for the theater company. That sounded fishy to me.

Did Mike Fleck tell you this? I asked. She recoiled. "The NEA asked the City, but they couldn't do it, so the City asked us to produce it," she insisted. 

Hmmn. The city asked a group of elderly performers to produce a fringe festival because they were to overwhelmed? And the National Endowment for the Arts wanted it to happen? All of this was communicated to Chansonette by City Councilman Mike Fleck, who happens to also be an actor for Chansonette and "is like a grandson to me," according to Evie. I realized there was no point in going any farther down that road. 

But I did eventually email Mike Fleck to ask, among other things, why the fringe festival involved no performing arts or theater, and how the senior citizens at Chansonette got saddled with event planning and working the festival in the summer heat, rather than being free to put together a show to familiarize the community with Chansonette's work and possibly attract more young actors. I also asked him why he didn't talk to residents before establishing the original site for the festival.

Here is his complete response to me:

From: mike@allentownmayor.com
Date: July 21, 2011 9:46:14 AM EDT
To: "Noel Jones"
Subject: Re: Blog Post
Reply-To: mike@allentownmayor.com

You are insane and misinformed and have all the facts wrong. I am done. Good luck and keep on yelling instead of being part of the solution. It is what you do best.Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry
This is how our elected West Ward representative on City Council talks to his constituents. 

Once I heard through the grapevine that the "fringe fest," which had turned out to be more of a struggling street fair, had gone under, I called Evie again to see how she was doing. Always a class act, she had nothing bad to say about anyone. Chansonette lost money on the festival, and Evie mused that it may have been because they had intended to raise money with $10 trolleys taking people from the Farmers Market around to see the outdoor exhibits for the Art in Urban Environments Festival and ending up at the Fringe Fest, but Lafayette was very late in getting the exhibits up. "I also think most people in Easton maybe didn't know what a 'fringe festival' was." While I agree with her, I also think that anyone who knows what a fringe festival is, took one look and knew that this was not a fringe festival. I told Evie that I wished that the community had been able to see Chansonnette perform in the band shell, as part of the fundraising effort, and she sighed and replied, "that would have been nice, but there's so much that goes into producing an event like this. Our members are all getting older--there's no way we could have done the event planning, worked the festival and produced a show--but we would have loved to--that's what we do best."

But always positive, Evie said, "I really enjoyed the time I spent with children and their families around the children's activities--Crayola was a terrific sponsor--the kids were so excited that they got to take home crayons and other treats." She also said that the school district was a great partner in providing power and some equipment for the festival. When I asked what it was like to work the festival, Evie told me that she spent a lot of time in the children's areas, and in many cases, an entire family of Spanish-speakers would come up, and a child in the family, no more than 6 or 7 in some cases, would translate for the entire family. "They were just delighted that they got to take the crayons home...the festival had its nice moments...the bands were great and the kids activities were well-attended...it was just a little hot out there sometimes...and I don't get around as well as I used to."

I asked what will happen to Chansonette now, and she paused for a moment. "I guess we'll meet soon to see if we can raise enough to be able to put on a holiday show this winter."

Anyone who would like to call Chansonette either regarding joining as an actor, volunteering time, or donating to the company to help fund future shows, can reach Evie and Charles Gulick by phone at 610-258-1439, or via email at evieandchas@verizon.net .

Here is Kurt Bresswein's article for the Express-Times, in which Mike Fleck said, "It's unfortunate. It's nobody's fault. Everyone tried their darnedest." But I'm not so sure about that. I tend to think it's Mike Fleck's fault for telling Chansonette that "the city" wanted them to produce the festival, and that the NEA wanted the fringe festival to happen, when in reality, Mike Fleck wanted them to produce the festival, and now they've lost not just the theater company's money, but money out of their own pockets (not to mention being able to spend their summer weekends with access to air-conditioning). I think it's Fleck's fault that the Fringe Fest was not better-promoted-as many commenters pointed out in the ET article that they didn't even know the festival was happening. I also think it's Fleck's fault that the festival was so overly-ambitious in planning to run all summer long, and that it's Fleck's fault that he never got public input in the first place, to see if there was any interest before deciding for us that we would have a festival in our neighborhood.

How on earth did we elect this man to represent us in the West Ward? This person who had so little regard for West Ward residents that he didn't  support residents in their push to get a street-cleaning program in the West Ward (we did that with the help of Vice-Mayor El Warner instead), this representative, who didn't even ask residents if they wanted their block  blocked every Saturday of the summer for a festival, and a man who would ask a group of senior citizens to run a street fair of his own devising, so that they were working in the heat, rather than being free to actually do what they do best--produce a theater performance?

Instead he spends his time dreaming up his version of a NID for downtown residents that will siphon money from the general fund, and calls his constituents "insane" and says he's "done" with them if they don't agree with him. Some neighborhood representative!

I feel really bad for Chansonette. Evie and Charles are a great couple and have been West Ward residents for decades. There is a great article on them in the latest issue of The West Word, available at local pubs, cafes and other businesses around town. We don't have enough live theater happening in Easton. I really hope Chansonette survives, and that we can all come out to see their holiday show this winter...

And I'm good and mad at Mike Fleck, who does not represent the West Ward on City Council--even though he was elected to, and prefers to call constituents "insane" and cut off communication, rather than listening to us.


Anonymous said...

The reason it failed is obvious..............there wasn't a parade!!!!!!!!!

Dennis R. Lieb said...


There WAS a marching band on opening day!



Untouched Takeaway said...


It's just not complete without a post from Anonymous Parade Person, whom I like to refer to as "Professor Harold Hill".

And more on point - Mike Fleck...seriously?!? I guess it's always good to know who the head cases are up front - especially when they reveal that themselves.

Scary guy.


Nikkita said...

I attended the day it opened and was hopeful that I would see something amazing and felt like it was a slightly bigger version of the weed n seed summer nights program.

The people in charge obviously have no idea how to put on a successful event. It's sad..it's always the same event with a differnt name in this place :(

Tim Pickel said...

Mike, just like the Vulcanos, see politics as a way of life, not a servitude to the people they represent. If Mike was truly representative of the people of the West Ward, he would be holding meetings to find out what we think needs to be done. I have yet to hear of a meeting here in the West Ward in the past year where Mike asked for feedback from his constituents. Please Mike, correct me if I am wrong.

As far as the fringe festival, my street was the original site. Evie did the dirty work of asking neighbors if they minded having the festival in our front yards. The problem was, was that she only found two neighbors home the day she walked the neighborhood. Two neighbors out of ten does not sound like a thorough job of soliciting opinions.

When I spoke to Mike about his reasoning for picking my block he accused me of "killing arts in the city of Easton." I asked him if he would mind if the festival was on his street and after he replied he did not. I promptly suggested his block be the festival sight, quickly ending our conversation.

I applaud anyone who runs for office. It is a tough job. I only ask that if one accepts the challenge, do your job. Mike has not done his so far.

Anonymous said...

When I heard there was going to be a fringe festival, I too, thought, it was an extension of Lafayette's Urban Arts Festival. Learning it was organized locally by Chansonnette and Mike Fleck, it could still be fun with theater, music, children's activities. Rumor has it that Mike used the NEA grant and Lafayette as a PR device to get money from local banks, and corporations to fund the fringe festival. They donated funds thinking they were contributing to a festival backed by the NEA and Lafayette. He definitely knows "how to spin it"...

Professor Harold Hill said...

C'mon Dennis, the festival was on one block, if the band didn't march, it doesn't qualify as a parade!!!

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

There was not one poster for this event, or at least I didn't see one. [There were postcards and a website.] Publicity must be multi-dimensional and should be 10% of every event budget. Clearly, the promotional budget was overlooked. My West Ward neighbors had no idea that it was going on. One commentor on the Express Times said "Oh ,THAT was what that was?" This is a travesty, and a terrible waste of money, as much, I heard, as $85,000. Mike, correct me if the sum is wrong. How could such a thing get organized without one poster or flyer?

Anonymous said...

Evie and Charles have been volunteers beyond the pale in this City for a long long time. They are a treasure and inspiration and if the past is any indication, the Chansonettes will keep kicking till the last one falls (literally.)

76 trombones said...

As I read the first few comments, I was entertained (good one, UT)but I was afraid that folks would give Fleck a pass on this one. I'm now glad to see that our citizens do realize what a nut-case this guy is.
I did attend the council meeting where Fleck said that if you are ever asked to help with a festival like this "you should run the other way."
Noel's outrage is low-key, but justified.
Noel, Dennis, Tim - who can run against this dolt come the end of his term? Would any west ward citizen gonnorhea lectim?

Untouched Takeaway said...

All we need is a Marian and/or Winthrop Paroo and we can ask Evie to help us stage "The Music Man"!

Anonymous said...

So is there a trolly for the arts festival now or not?

The city and Lafayette know they are suppose to engage the community but is it possible that the reality of it is not so appealing to them...which would explain the gaping lack of flyers and outreach. Weed and Seed blanketed the West Ward with flyers to get Summer Nights attended. They were even at school bus stops to hand out flyers to the kids.

Alan Raisman said...

I attended the Chansonnette's production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Easton Area High School last year. It was a fabulous production! I have two friends in the Chansonnette Theater. I highly recommend going to see any production they put on.

Like Noel, I also heard them at an Open Mic when they were rehearsing for their production of Grease. They are a great group, and I hope they stay around for years!

noel jones said...

Alan, thanks for citing one of their shows--I'd love to hear from others who have seen Chansonette's shows over the years as to which one they liked the best!

The most recent issue of The West Word has a great article by Cathy Stoops on Evie and Charles Gulick and Chansonette Theater...

Anonymous said...

Thay tried to put this together too quickly. An event expected to run for that length of time requires quite a lot of careful planning. I heard that Lafayette was supposed to bring in quite a few international artists, but either their visas were turned down or the paperwork was not submitted in time to get them here. I don't know if that's true, it's just something I've heard from several people.

Carol Broughton said...

The failure of the Fringe Festival had nothing to do with Mike Fleck. The failure had to do with lack of support.

As far as planning, Anonymous said "They tried to put this together too quickly. An event expected to run for that length of time requires quite a lot of careful planning."

Maybe you're not aware, but the initial planning stage of the fringe festival was late fall of 2010.

@Julie Zando-Dennis -- it was advertised extensively. In additional 10,000 flyers and posters were placed around the West Ward. On Fridays, an article in the Express Times announced which bands would be performing the following day. The affair was also listed in Focus, on Eastonnow.com, as well as other local circulars.

Another incorrect fact: Trolleys initially were scheduled to make pick-ups at the Lafayette installations and bring people to the fringe festival for $5, but the installations were not completed, so after two weeks, Chansonnette cancelled the trolleys.

@Noel..."But when I talked to folks at Lafayette associated with the arts festival, they seemed perplexed as to how the Fringe Fest had come about at all--as it was not mentioned in the NEA grant--but they agreed to help out to a small degree." I'm surprised that they were perplexed because we had a representative from Lafayette coming to some of the planning meetings.

While I realize that blogs are mostly opinion/slants and not entirely facts,the bottom line is that Chansonnette Theatre will take the brunt of the criticism. I am dismayed that the blog comments are targeted at Mike Fleck. Mike Fleck is not synonymous with Chansonnette.

Politics aside, I will tell you that Mike went above and beyond each week to assist us. He was there at 8:30am to set-up, stayed for the most part the entire day, and then helped break down at 6:00pm.

The members of Chansonnette worked tirelessly every Saturday in spite of the frustration over lack of support. The dedication should be commended.

Noel, as you said, Evie is in her 80's. The Board of Chansonnette Theatre would love to sit down with you to discuss the facts surrounding the fringe fest.

Our hope was that after the fringe fest, we would be able to once again produce quality theatre. Maybe Chansonnette has run its course and its time is up.

noel jones said...

Carol--thanks for posting. I hope that it is clear in this post that I am not criticizing Chansonette at all--I feel that they were taken advantage of by Mike Fleck.

I did sit down with Evie and Charles for a long interview, and then had long conversations with them over phone more recently. Evie defended Mike because she "thinks of him like a grandson," but what disturbed me was that her clear impression--and this she repeated to me--was that the NEA WANTED the city of Easton to do a fringe festival, and that the city of Easton was too overwhelmed so THEY ASKED Chansonette to run it for them. Both of these points didn't make sense at all (the National Endowment for the Arts could care less what Easton does outside of the Art in Urban Environments Festival) so I contacted a city council member who told me that no such thing had ever occurred and that Fleck had brought the idea to the city as something CHANSONETTE wanted to do, and he bulldozed his way through approaching some of the same sponsors that Lafayette was in the process of approaching for the Art in Urban Environments Festival.

So in other words, he was talking out both sides of his mouth--telling Chansonette that the NEA and the city wanted them to host a fringe festival, and telling the city that Chansonette wanted to host a fringe festival concurrently with the Art of Urban Environments Festival and the Farmers Market. This was never "the City's" plan, it was Mike Fleck's plan, and for him to say what he wants to say to the community and claim that because he's a City Council member that "the City" is saying it, is just wrong.


noel jones said...


And yes, once it became clear that the fringe fest was going to happen no matter what, Lafayette tried to be gracious and helpful, but it was never their intention that their be a fringe fest in conjunction with the arts festival.

@Anon 6:01--I want to make one thing perfectly clear:

The Fringe Fest was NOT part of the Art in Urban Environments Festival. AUEF is NEA-funded and Lafayette-run. There are 10 outdoor exhibits up around the city, and flyers with a map are available at: Main Street Initiative, Terra Cafe, Quadrant Cafe, Cosmic Cup, the YMCA, Easton Area Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club, as well as arts and community centers in Allentown, Bethlehem, Forks and Bethlehem Township.

The Fringe Fest was an invention of Mike Fleck, period.

Lafayette was good enough to include the Fringe Fest on the map for the arts festival, and they helped procure the music, but this is not anything they were ever planning on in conjunction with AUEF until Mike Fleck thrust it upon them. So yes, they eventually had someone sitting at the table, but it was a table Fleck invented, not the NEA, not Lafayette, and not the City of Easton. Lafayette also tried to help out by having some of their activities associated with AUEF scheduled to take place at the Fringe Fest site in addition to the sites they already had planned (like the hip-hop workshop) but now those activities will have to be moved because the Fringe Fest went under.

I have to echo Julie--I have not seen one poster for the Fringe Fest alone anywhere in the city, nor do I remember seeing flyers. When I met with Evie, it was all conversation, there was no literature on the event to take with me. I did see an article in the ET, and I posted a permanent photo and caption at the top of my blog to help publicize each week.

Most of all, nothing changes the fact that it was not a FRINGE FESTIVAL. It was not. It was a street fair. So even if it had been well-marketed, it would have just made a lot of people annoyed to be drawn out for something that involved no theater.

I understand that a handful of diligent volunteers worked tirelessly on this street fair, and I am not blaming them either--I think that they--and Chansonette, and the City, and Lafayette, were all gamed by Mike Fleck and I'm mad about it. Especially
when it was supposed to be a fundraiser for Chansonette.

I hope that the silver lining in all this is that awareness and sympathy for Chansonette has been raised and that the community will come out in numbers for their holiday show, if they are able to put one on, after losing so much money on this street fair.

I put the blame squarely where it belongs: Mike Fleck. Of course he's going to say "it's nobody's fault, everyone tried their darnedest"--because he knows the blame is his, and he doesn't want to be blamed.

It is not the public's fault for not coming to a street fair that is calling itself a fringe fest, especially when it's running at the same time as the Farmers Market, which is very popular. It is not the public's fault that they did not see posters and flyers. And it's not Lafayette's fault that when they were struggling to get the AUEF installations up, that a street fair that had hoped to ride their coattails didn't draw the attendance they had hoped. The fringe fest was not their idea.

BINJ said...

Wow, Noel I guess you really don’t like Mike Fleck. Even after several people from Chansonnette have given you the facts and you choose to pick the opposite of those facts. Sounds like you have an axe to grind, which I guess is fine considering the nature of blogs; write what you choose to write and the facts be damned.

I guess I am one of the lucky 10,000 people who got a flyer and went down to the festival. I heard great music and had some food from Ashley’s. Yes it was small but as a West Ward resident, I was happy that the festival was in my backyard. (Not everything has to be downtown.)

As for the others who pile on about Mr. Fleck not doing anything for West Ward residents, I say this: Same Sex Partner Benefits. As someone who does not have yet the ability to marry in my state, having my city recognize the 12-year commitment of my partner and me as valid is means the world to me.

So thank you Mike for the short-lived Fringe Festival and passing Same Sex Partner Benefits You have my vote!

Althea Ruffin said...

I live in the West Ward. The only indication that a festival was going on in the neighborhood was the blocked off street. There were no flyers or posters placed announcing the event. I only heard of it because of Weed and Seed e-mails to people on the mailing list and postings on FB. No one that I spoke with in the WW knew this was going on until I told them.

noel jones said...

BINJ--My opinions/criticism/praise of politicians are based solely on their performance. I did not know any of these people before moving here five years ago.

I have complimented Mike on proposing same-sex benefits legislation to council. I give credit where credit is due, and he deserves credit for that. What he does not deserve credit for:

1. Staying focused on the WW as our rep
2. Seeking public input from his constituents
3. Putting the word out in the neighborhood that our annual city council meeting to be held in the WW was going to be happening--i found from the PA Diversity Network who contacted me the night before the meeting. I posted to the blog, emailed my list and called everyone on my neighborhood list to get people to come out. That was the night the same-sex benefits were voted on. Our turnout was bigger than the average city council meeting, but it would have been much bigger if our WW Rep had bothered to tell us about it in advance. The mayor has now promised to hold a WW Town Hall Meeting to make up for it.
4. Supporting/representing residents who had been asking the city for a year and a half for a street-cleaning program in the WW. He told me flat out when he was elected that it would never happen and so he would not propose it because he only wanted to work on things he could win. We got street-cleaning despite him, with the help of El Warner on council.
5. Talking to all residents on a block before assigning a street fair to their block and saying "the city" had decided when it was all his idea.
6. Wasting time as our WW rep developing a plan for a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) downtown that would involved creating a new fund and a new layer of administration, siphoning money from the general budget, and eventually leading to raised taxes, when better options exist, and he should be focusing on how to improve OUR neighborhood.
7. Convincing his theater company (of mostly elderly members) that they should run a street fair all summer and that it would make them money, and saying "the NEA" and "the City" wanted them to, when it was entirely his idea and his doing, and was doomed to fail do to poor planning and lack of resident input to start with.

And BINJ--you are obfuscating when you say "Even after several people from Chansonnette have given you the facts and you choose to pick the opposite of those facts," when this post is based on interviews with Evie and Charles Gulick, who are the founding members of Chansonette, and to my knowledge Carol is the only member (or volunteer, not sure which) that has posted a comment here. So I don't know where you're getting "several people from Chansonette" from, except that you are clearly posting in defense of Mike, and may even be Mike for all the readers know. As for "an axe to grind"--I didn't have one until he decided to call me "insane" for criticizing him as a public official, which is the right of every voter.

The local politicians of this town have a serious How Dare You problem--first Kerry Myers at the school board meeting calling residents who criticized the board PATHETIC, and now Mike Fleck, who prefers to call this constituent INSANE.

Real class, guys. I hope everyone remembers this when these guys run for office again--seriously.

I'm really mad at Mike for wasting Chansonette's time, energy and money. Even though Evie adores him and will defend him to the end, it doesn't stop me from being mad at him for it.

Anonymous said...

The board has offered to meet with you. Call carol and take their offer and you will see that you have all the facts wrong. How do I know this because I am a board member. Mike helped us by putting in a lot of time and money. Yes it was his idea and we embraced it. Mike had nothing to do with the lack of success. He raised a lot of money to help us run the festival and even donated at least $1000 of his own money and lots of his time.

This was all done in an effort to promote the community and help save Chansonnette. It didn't work but at least he is trying things. I don't see a lot of people even trying. Mike and I may not always agree but you will never hear a board member say we don't appreciate what he tried to do and all his efforts. I am just sorry he is being put through this for all his hard work.

After reading what you have said, I tend to agree with Mike and you may just be insane at best you are uninformed or intelectually dishonest.

noel jones said...

Anon 11:33--Ah, now there's an invitation I can't refuse! An anonymous commenter who claims to be a board member chiming in with a City Councilman calling me insane. Sigh...I'm in love.

You are missing the point. I have spoken with the city, Lafayette and the founders of Chansonette. I have reported all I was told here. That's the story.

In my opinion, the Chansonette board was fooled into this endeavor by Mike Fleck. I'm not saying that he wasn't trying to do a good thing, but that he completely misrepresented the city in his position as City Councilman, when it was really his own idea, and he took a lot of shortcuts to bulldoze it through that where shortcuts no thorough planner should take. Residents be damned, Lafayette be damned, the rest of City Council be damned, and risk to Chansonette be damned. Mike wanted to do it, and he did it.

If Chansonette wants to stand behind him, that's their choice. But in quiet moments, away from the blogs and other members, they should each ask themselves how this came about, why it failed and whether it was worth it. And they cannot blame the community. It is not the community's responsibility to spend their time on the weekends at a poorly-promoted street fair that claims to be a fringe festival. It is up to whoever is planning it to create a real fringe festival if that's what they are going to claim, and promote it in such a way that it attracts the community. It was not a fringe festival.

I did what I could for this street fair--I put a permanent ad up on the home page of this blog for its entire run, and posted three separate posts about the "fringe fest". So I had no desire to see Mike's brainchild fail, in fact, I tried to help for the sake of Chansonette. But he set them up for failure, and I'm mad about that, and have a right to be. Especially when the guy responsible calls me "insane" and is my elected representative.

I have no time for Anonymous defenders of Mike Fleck. I know Carol, and respect her for posting her name. It's much easier to have a respectful, rational, conversation that way. She has a different perspective and differing perspectives are always welcome on this blog.

But lame personal insults from Anonymous posters do nothing to further the conversation.

And when someone anonymously posts defending Fleck, obfuscating facts that are disproven in the comments (i.e., "several people from Chansonette have posted", etc.) and decides to use the same specific insult for me, readers can only wonder if it isn't Fleck posting anonymously.

Own your words. Put your name on them. You are welcome to the conversation, try contributing a differing point of view that is neither obfuscation nor insult.

Tim Pickel said...

I don't always agree with everything Noel writes in her blog but she seems to have researched this subject fairly well. Whether one agrees with her point of view is irrelevant, its her blog. I am sure she welcomes educated responses, pro or con. to her posts.

Getting back to this post, one fact that is true is that there was a lack of advertising the event. If I had not been a resident in the neighborhood originally slated for the fest, I would not have known it existed. I did not see one poster or flyer touting the event. Both BINJ and Carol stated there were 10,000 posters, well over one third of the city's residents, yet none of my neighbors ever receive or saw one.

I admittedly am not a big fan of Mike Fleck. I believe he is in politics for all the wrong reasons. We talk occasionally and share a respect for how hard of a job it is to be a city councilperson. I respect that he runs for office and puts himself out there, I simply wish he would be more genuine and spend more time focused on the West Ward. After all, we are who he was elected to represent.

tunsie said...

I love noel and carol and patrick......tunsie

noel jones said...

thanks for posting, Tim--nice to have a former city council president weighing in on this!

tachitup said...

I just today got an e-mail from WDIY showing that "The Chansonnette Fringe Festival has Woodford, Walters & Heck at noon, and the Henning Stumm Jazz Group at 3." will be there on Saturday. I hope someone told the performers that they no longer have a gig.

And I was looking forward to seeing Dave Fry in August.

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

"10,000 flyers and posters were placed around the West Ward"???? That is truly hard to believe. How could I live in the West Ward and not have seen one poster? I have been downtown numerous times and not seen one poster.

It seems to me that our representative, Mike Fleck, had a good idea, which was poorly executed. It failed in a critical area -- publicity. Again, publicity should constitute 10% of the total event budget. It must be multi-dimentional, consisting of flyers, postcards, posters, radio spots, newspaper announcements, radio interviews. It is hard, but essential work that was not taken care of here.

Speaking of which, the "Arts in Urban Festival" or whatever it is called has failed utterly to publicize the festival and its events. It is a $200,000 missed opportunity for the West Ward and the City of Easton.

noel jones said...

tachitup--I think the music is still happening, but it has been moved to a different location--i'll try to find out where...

if anyone knows, please post!

noel jones said...

Julie--I think calling it a "good idea" requires some qualification.

If having a fringe festival was a good idea, then it should have been a real fringe festival with theater and performance art, which it was not.

If having a street fair was a good idea, then it should have been called a street fair and advertised as such.

Either way, 16 Saturdays was too ambitious, and to schedule it at the same time as the Farmers Market wasn't good planning. And however long it was and whatever time it happened, it needed to be more thoroughly promoted.

I think you're right--there is too much in this town that does not take into account the cost of serious advertising and marketing required to draw attendance before jumping into a project. I have not seen a single flyer or poster for the fringe fest in the WW either. The only mention I have seen of the fringe fest was their spot on the tour map for the Art of Urban Environments Festival, a news article in the ET, and the front page of my blog.

I wonder how the 10,000 flyers were distributed?

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Whatever one calls it, a street fair or a "fringe fest," it was a missed opportunity.

Passing 12th Street on Northampton, there was no sign or banner welcoming the public. From the main gateway -- Northampton Street -- it looked like a private block party.

The fest sold beer, but had hours from 11 am till 6 pm. People want to relax with a beer in the evening. 4 pm till 10 pm would have made more sense.

If it is true that $85,000 was spent on the festival, and neither Councilman Mike Fleck nor anyone else has posted otherwise, than it's hard not to question why this event had such a big budget but generated so little impact.

Easton Heights Blogger said...

wow, 31 comments, NOE has hit the big time!
I also never saw one of these 10,000 posters and I live 5 blocks from the site. I DID here about it though, on here I think.
but I had no desire to go waste my time on what looked like a 'street fair' as someone said. it looked small and I didn't see the draw (I don't drink either so 'beer' is not a draw for me )
there's no focus in this city and a lack of community. the efforts to do things like the summer nights program are to be commended as its an attempt to build community. festivals too are assumed to be a tool to build substance.
but its a crap shoot. its hard to get people to buy in to community happenings when they don't really feel a part of the community. why don't they? because they don't WANT to.
the WW is around 60% rental? and why did they choose to rent here? were they drawn to the arts scene, the restaurants, the parks, the canal?
no. they are here because it's CHEAP.
too many people could care less about the history of Easton or what is going on.
so you can put on all the festivals you want, close off all the streets you can, give away all the crayons you have, but none of it will build community.
lastly, Fleck's comments are inexcusable. completely inappropriate for an elected official.

noel jones said...

EHB--thanks for posting--you make a really important point--that you can't superimpose a sense of community on a community that does itself FEEL it is a community.

Anonymous said...

Not living in the WW I am insulted that your position about the "WW rep" is that he only represents the interests of WW. I have no opinion one way or the other on the festival but what I do know is that the charter created district reps to make it easier to have people from all sections of the city on city council. To say a district rep should concern themselves with only their district is absurd and a contradiction to the charter. The charter commission made it very clear that they were placing districts so that people could run for office easier and for less money by walking their neighborhood.

But please don't tell me that the charter wanted to territorialize our city. I have heard the mayor say over and over again that our city is only 4 square miles and we are one community.

I went to most of the charter commission meetings -- I didn't see you there so please understand the intent of district reps.

noel jones said...

Great, then who are you, Mr. Anonymous? Mike Fleck, perhaps? Oh, that's right. I hear he was on the Home Rule Charter Commission, but then didn't attend. And now he's talking about editing it or getting rid of it altogether. Another reason to love our City Councilman.

irregularwriter said...

IT is obvious to me that after Noel recieved the insulting email from Mike Fleck that she was and is intent on discrediting him. I often did not agree with Mike while on City Council with him and still take issue with him many times but this is not a case where he should be subjected to any more degrading comments when what he tried to do was bring a bit of culture and happiness in the form of a free festival (I don't care how small it was) to the West Ward. I sat with folks in the West Ward at Centennial Park when we had West Ward Summer Nights for children to keep them off the streets--it was a small effort too. But it worked. I wonder how much time Noel has contributed as an unpaid volunteer to the greater good of the West Ward or is this blog the sum total of her efforts in her NEW community? Most of the volunteers, from what I can see for afar, are lifelong residents who have contributed countless hours of selfless work to the West Ward. AND, there was a slant comment about streetcleaning somewhere in Noels' rant about Mike. I would like everyone to know that years ago when he was on Council the first time, it was Mike Fleck who brought up a street cleaning plan for the City. Mike has done some really dumb things but his heart has always been in the West Ward and he has been a strong volunteer when needed to help theWest Ward be the best possible place to live. So, please Noel, when folks try to do something good, no matter what the outcome, try to be supportive and not an antagonist and to try to sugest that something was/is not right with the grant money is shameful. Shame on you! Carole J. Heffley, City Council member 2001-2005 and thank you Mike Fleck for taking my equality platform forward.

irregularwriter said...

I apologize that the computer insisted on giving me an incorrect identity as "Irregularwriter" insteand of my name. I stand corrected or rather my computer and goggle does. The post should be accredited to myself alone: Carole J. Heffley, former member, Easton City Council

noel jones said...

Carole--your post saddens me, as I remember liking your speech against Riverwalk when I first moved here.

you said in your comment:
"I wonder how much time Noel has contributed as an unpaid volunteer to the greater good of the West Ward or is this blog the sum total of her efforts in her NEW community?"

before making an insinuation like that, you should do your homework. i have spent an inordinate amount of time volunteering with the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership and other organizations in the community, canvassing and participating in our local democracy as a citizen, which, quite frankly, i feel is even more important than volunteering. as Americans, most of us have sadly abdicated our role in this "government of the people, for the people, by the people," and as a result, our country--as well as our local democracy--has gone to hell.

not to mention that this blog has been a volunteer effort of hours EVERY DAY for the last three years. you may not appreciate it, but not only am I told regularly by my neighbors how much they appreciate it, but 10,000 hits/month according to Google Analytics backs that up. to each her own. i'd like to know how many other people out there are volunteering hours EVERY day.

i was unhappy with Mike Fleck's performance LONG before he decided to call me insane--and if you had taken time to think about it (or reviewed older blog posts), you would have realized that your comment makes no sense as his disrespectful email to me was in RESPONSE to an email I had sent him. he did not send me a "you are insane" email out of the blue. he had written me upset that I had ALREADY criticized his plan for a NID on this blog, and I wrote back to him about that and the fringe festival. that's when he decided to call me "insane."

how Mike Fleck went about establishing the fake "fringe festival" was irresponsible and incompetent (obviously, since it has failed), and caused Chansonette to lose a lot of money, when they were hoping to raise money. I feel bad for them and mad at him as my elected neighborhood representative. that is my right.

i have said it before and i will say it again. i did not grow up with these people, and do not hang out with them now, so none of my criticism is personal. any credit or criticism I give is based on PERFORMANCE. i would much rather that everyone was doing a good job.

it is part of Mike Fleck's job to listen respectfully to his constituents. he is not doing his job.

i would say that I am shocked that you would support a councilman who insults his constituents for daring to criticize, but then, it seems to be par for the course among Easton politicians, i just didn't consider you to be one of that guard. i guess i was wrong. the Easton "How Dare You" against the newcomers rolls on...what is amazing is that this kind of behavior is so ensconced here that politicians don't even seem to realize how completely outrageous it IS to new people who move here.

one thing I have realized is that most local politicians just want people to buy homes here to add to the tax base. other than that they don't want them to have any INPUT at all--except--oh yeah--to VOLUNTEER lots of unpaid free time and do what they are told by the old guard, who are busy hooking up their families and friends with good jobs and contracts, while the West Ward and parts of South Side languish in blight.

great way to retain residents! no wonder the population is so transient...

as for street-cleaning, Mike Fleck told me to my face, on my porch, when he was first elected, that he would NOT support the residents in pursuit of a street-cleaning plan--i don't care about what he proposed and failed to push through in the past. it has nothing to do with REPRESENTING his constituents this time around.

noel jones said...

and i'm really tired of old guard politicians railing against newcomers, because it is an exercise in denial--the old guard would like to believe that there is no one that was born and raised in Easton that would criticize them, even when "oldtimers" criticize them regularly.

last thursday, at a school board meeting, school board president Kerry Myers attacked residents verbally for expressing concern about nepotism and croneyism, when all the citizens had spoken in measured tones and respectful language. he shouted that they were "pathetic!" and suggested that as newcomers they had no right to criticize people who had lived here their whole lives.

only problem (aside from being an elected official who felt it was ok to insult constituents--much like Mike Fleck) was that two of the residents WERE born and raised here (one was from a family 4 generations in Easton) and another was in his eighties but SHAME SHAME has only lived here and contributed to the community for a decade. HOW DARE HE?

i would like to invite all commenters here to say how long they have lived in Easton--maybe that will help dispel the myth that the old guard seeks to perpetuate.

i have lived here as a homeowner, taxpayer, voter and volunteer for almost 5 five years. clearly i don't count, so i'd love to hear from others who have been here longer.

Untouched Takeaway said...

I’ve always been upfront…I do not live in Easton. I live on the border of Mt Bethel and Portland, and I’ve been there going on 2 years now. I am a frequent visitor to Easton, and I blog about architecture there for a local online newspaper.

Before that, I lived for 15 years in New Jersey, and prior to that – 35 years (born and raised) in Florida.

When I moved to NJ, everyone in Florida thought I was nuts. Everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line, of course, has 3 heads and a tail, right? But I found the people of NW NJ welcoming and very friendly. My dog ran off 2 days after I moved up, and I cannot tell you how many total strangers helped me look for – and ultimately find – her.

When I moved “across the border” into the Slate Belt, I almost immediately encountered that “them versus us” mentality. At first, it amused me, and I’d head things off at the pass by saying “Yep – I’m one of them durn NJ people encroaching into PA!”. Then it started to bewilder me, and now it bloody well angers me. To add insult to injury, I am (lowering voice to an embarrassed whisper) a renter, so of course, I doubly do not count. I realize that the rental rate in Easton is huge, and I absolutely do believe that to a great extent, a certain group of renters (and let’s not forget to include the rental unit owners, because they are just as responsible) have made things difficult, but just because someone rents, should not preclude/exclude them from being a voice and a supporter of local government.

This renter buys her gas in PA. She pays that inane earned income tax in PA. I buy my heating oil from a local provider. My mechanic is in Bangor. I shop in Bangor, in Easton, in Mt Bethel. I use the libraries in Easton and Bangor. I believe in patronizing local businesses and even on a limited income these days, I’m willing to pay more for something I could probably find cheaper on my commute home from NJ.

I love Easton. I have no idea why, but from the first time I visited there, I guess I could feel the potential. I admit it – I am a die-hard romantic – both in actual romance, and in life, so there’s that. But I see these shabby, neglected houses, and in my eyes, they are the beautiful, craftsmanship-heavy beauties that they once were. Like Sleeping Beauty, I feel like they’re just waiting on the *right* “someone” to rescue them. One day, if my dreams come true, I’ll be one of those “someones”. I see neighborhoods where some homes are literally diamonds in a dung heap, and you know what? That gives stupid ole me hope…and keeps me believing that as long as there are those diamonds, they will attract other jewels and soon that dung heap will be something alive and glowing.


Untouched Takeaway said...

These “someones” - no matter how long they’ve lived in Easton (or the Slate Belt for that matter), have a right, and I’ll even say a *duty* to be vocal and question and participate and volunteer.

I’ll be brutally honest – the kvetching and moaning and groaning about how awful Easton is comes 99.9% from people who *HAVE* lived here a long time – sometimes generations. I’d like to know how many of them are out doing something positive for the community. As I posted here on another topic – it’s generally much easier to sit at your computer or in your lawn chair and complain and bitch about how things have changed and how awful they are than it is to get up and at least TRY to make a difference.

It’s true – Ron & Ken at the Mercantile can’t arrest drug dealers. And Phyllis O’Donnell can’t round up gang members, and Laini can't stop indifferent landlords from renting to cruddy tenants. And yes - it’s absolutely frustrating to try to make a difference and see that you’re just a tiny drop in a bucket. But you know what? If enough Ron & Kens and Phyllis’s and Ellen Shaughnessys and Dennis Liebs see these seeds that have taken root and decide to move into Easton or the Slate Belt, then those drops can become something much, much larger and much more effective.

Stop making fun of people who are earnestly trying to make a difference. Stop discounting opinions and efforts and questions and ideas because their originator hasn’t been here since the Pleistocene era. There is plenty of room for ANYONE who wants to make a difference.


(sorry this is rambling – I get wound up sometimes)

noel jones said...

UT--I agree 100% and have gone through the same steps from humor to anger. And I romanticize the old buildings here in the same way you describe too. I also agree that it sometimes takes outsiders who romanticize these old victorians to come in and put work into them, when a lot of old-timers many generations deep clamor on the blogs about "cesspool" and "scumbags" and "dumps," etc. ready to write the place off without getting out from behind their computers to show up at city hall and fight for code enforcement, etc.

And renters have just as much say as anyone else, as they are affected by almost all the same issues as homeowners--INCLUDING property taxes, because as renters, their rents usually go up when property taxes do, as landlords tend to pass on the cost to their tenants.

Any citizen voice in our local democracy speaking up at a public meeting is equal to the next. Sometimes I worry that renters feel they "have no dog in this fight" because of all the talk of taxpayers and property owners, but renters end up paying those tax hikes too. I wish that more renters knew that the decisions that the school board and city council make affect their living expenses directly. I would love for a legion of renters to show up at the next school board meeting.

And your posts are always thoughtful, not rambling--thanks for posting!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Noel, Just remember, the flack is always heaviest when you're over the target. Looks like you scored a direct hit, and the Fleckster doesn;t like it.

noel jones said...

Thanks, Bernie. I just feel really bad for Chansonette. The whole thing hasn't made sense from the beginning. I think the public should have access to an accounting to know where all the money was spent--I'm not saying that it wasn't spent on the festival, but what I can't understand is why the sponsors were willing to fork over money without seeing a viable plan in place for the event. Who just gives money over that easily?

Somehow I think if I were to run around to sponsors and say, "hey, give me thousands of dollars, i'm going to create this great music fest as a fundraiser for a local music school!" that they would want to see a viable plan first. but for some reason with Fleck, they just threw money at him when the plan was half-baked. Why would they do that?

noel jones said...

I would also like to known if taxpayer money was used for this, and if so, how much.

Cathy Stoops said...

I want to thank Noel for her work in creating this excellent tool for community engagement, for her courage in asserting the public's right to know, and especially for her time.

noel jones said...

Thanks, Cathy--I truly couldn't do it without the NOE readers--it really is a group effort at self-education, and I'm learning so much each day from everyone who posts and emails me backchannel.

We are currently at a record number of hits this month--10,485--it's exciting. It's the people that read and comment and keep me on my toes that really make it happen!

Julie Zando-Dennis said...

Noel's question is a good one. Usually funders fork over money when they see a plan. Since this festival was poorly and hastily planned (as was, may I add, the Arts in Urban Environment thingy), then why would private funders support it? Seems to me like it's a backdoor campaign donation ....

noel jones said...

this article from Friday's Morning Call, claims "heavy marketing" for the fringe festival, and calls it a flop. Fleck is quoted, blaming Lafayette for being late getting the Art of Urban Environments festival started, then saying that no one is to blame:


the lone commenter to the article says they live and work in easton and did not know about the festival until this article.

apparently the sponsors contributions totalled $30K. why did they give him the $$ without a solid plan for execution?

Anonymous said...

Would it be out of bounds to ask for the text of your query to Councilman Fleck? I'm not looking to excuse his bad behavior, I'm just wondering if you have any culpability in creating the tone of the exchange. I'm just trying to understand the exchange,please don't attack me for that. Have all of your communications with him been this contentious?

Cookies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Okay. The lack of a response is saying something to me.

MrsMiller said...

Coming late to this party, but wondering..Is the city of Allentown OK with Mike Fleck using his city email (and probably Allentown-owned Blackberry) to respond to Easton constituents?

And Anonymous.... even if Noel asked Mike questions in the snarkiest of tones, or the history, a city council member has no right to respond that way.

Also wondering, and may have missed this, but the NEA doesn't just drop money into a city. Someone had to apply for grant--where's the application and what did the city sign up for? And how much is the grant? Has all the money been spent?

Noel, this sounds fishy to me, too.