Festival at Sandpoint names interim leader

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SANDPOINT — After months with no executive director, the Festival at Sandpoint Board of Directors appointed Ali Baranski to take over the position in an interim role in mid November.

Right away, Baranski had to navigate a number of different hurdles including the city of Sandpoint’s decision to move forward with a plan to install artificial turf and other improvements to War Memorial Field, making some people fear the Festival won’t be put on in 2020.

But the Festival played a small part in Baranski’s decision to move to Sandpoint years ago so she was willing to do whatever it took to make sure it went on without a hitch.

“It came naturally to me and I also like a challenge,” she said. “I like fixing things, I like being the solver but mostly I couldn’t stay away because I felt like there was a need and a responsibility.”

Baranski served on the Festival’s board for a year and half before having to resign from the board in order to take over as interim executive director. Baranski works virtually and full-time managing a corporate sales team, which over her 10 years with the company requires her to facilitate large events for clients.

Due to this, Baranski already had a busy schedule and was volunteering upward of 30 hours a week to help the Festival in the few months prior to taking on this responsibility.

But Baranski felt well-equipped to step in to the spot due to her experience and passion for the Festival and music. She was even a music major in college before switching.

“When you’re really passionate about something and love something it doesn’t feel like work, it doesn’t feel like a job,” she said.

Baranski said she wasn’t comfortable serving as the executive director until after the Sandpoint High School soccer season concluded because her husband, Conor, is the head coach of the team. Now with Conor’s schedule allowing him a little more free time to take care of their two kids, Baranski feels more at ease working long hours seven days a week.

Baranski said she only plans on being the executive director in an interim role and the board is expected to start taking applicants for the position this month. She also added that there is no set timeline to hire someone because the board wants to do its due diligence and find the right person for the job.

Baranski said she and interim office manager Amy Bistline are focused on making the Festival more efficient, particularly financially, in the time they hold their positions on the staff and keeping it on schedule for opening day on Aug. 6.

“There’s no getting around that the artificial turf decision is our biggest challenge right now partly because it’s new and not business as usual,” she said, “as well as it’s a little bit out of our hands and we have to wait for answers from the city.”

“The biggest coordination piece right now is working with the city on the artificial turf project,” she said, “and putting things into place so logistically and financially we have everything in place to be able to host the Festival at Sandpoint on an artificial surface.”

The City Council recently approved the natural rubber and cork mix for the artificial turf at Memorial Field and the final design for field improvements is scheduled for February 2020 with a construction contract set to be awarded in March.

A project of this magnitude typically takes three months to complete, but the city is allowing contractors four months to finish it just in case there are any unforeseen delays. Baranski said the city has reassured the Festival that the field will be ready for them to begin setting up on Aug. 1.

The Festival has also made sure it is considered and prioritized throughout the process and the city is working closely with current production manager Paul Gunter and former production manager Dave Nygren to make sure that happens, Baranski said.

In case the city doesn’t meet its deadline, Baranski said the Festival has a committee evaluating alternative venues. Baranski also added that the city could postpone the project until next year if it looks like it won’t be finished in time for the start of the Festival or if a contractor isn’t selected in time.

Another challenge for the Festival is the ongoing lawsuit between Bonner County and the city over the Festival’s gun ban. The county is seeking to prevent the Festival from prohibiting firearms at the event, which is forbidden by Idaho law in public places, but the city is arguing that it’s within the Festival’s right to restrict guns because it leases Memorial Field from the city.

As of now, the Festival is not a part of the lawsuit against the county but it has filed a motion to be added, which the city has agreed to but the county has yet to respond to. A status conference for the lawsuit is set for Jan. 28.

Despite all the recent turmoil and uncertainty, Baranski and the rest of the Festival staff are confident the show will go on.

“It’s never been an option to not have the Festival,” she said. “It’s too important to our community, its part of our culture ... It will continue to thrive. Things might look or feel different than they have in the past, which is not always a bad thing.”


Dylan Greene can be reached by email at dgreene@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @DylanDailyBee.

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