The future of Bumbershoot is now.
The city of Seattle is opening the window Thursday for requests for proposals from those with an interest in producing the Bumbershoot Arts & Music Festival, the long-running Labor Day weekend tradition at Seattle Center.
An exploratory committee met through the summer to consider what to do next with the festival. The event, in the opinion of many, became bloated over the last decade and struggled to meet financial projections for a number of reasons.
The description in a news release announcing the RFP leaves a lot open for interpretation but made it clear that city leaders want the festival to be more than a showcase for today’s biggest pop stars.
Asked if Bumbershoot 2022 will look like the event of old, Seattle Center Director Robert Nellams said: “A little bit yes and a lot no.”
“We want it to be about more of our arts and culture,” Nellams said. “We want it to be more about who we are and where we’re going. And we want it to be something that people find and experience new and different things at. It should be something that also delights and surprises you.”
The deadline for completed proposals is Oct. 25.
Nellams said the city is open-minded about production partners and is expecting proposals from large corporations that specialize in producing large events to small startups put together just to pursue the idea.
“I expect all of the above,” Nellams said. “I expect companies that do this for a living. I expect people who have a concept and a way of looking at things and say, ‘Oh, this is what we always wanted to do,’ or, ‘This is something that we can do for our community.’ I expect it to be kind of all over the board, and our hope is that the fact that this is 50 years old and looking to grow for another 50 years is something that really entices people to get engaged and submit proposals.”
The RFP says there should be events centered around Labor Day weekend and that a number of buildings on the Seattle Center campus and Climate Pledge Arena have dates set aside that weekend for use by Bumbershoot. But proposals can suggest other areas of use and dates for satellite events.
Some things that aren’t up for debate include inclusivity and diversity requirements, as well as a financial plan that will keep the festival profitable for years to come. Bumbershoot initially got in trouble when bills started to mount and producer One Reel Productions had to partner with corporate promoter AEG over the last five years of the festival. In 2019, the year Bumbershoot was last held, AEG did not renew its contract to produce the festival.
The city and One Reel announced last spring that the festival would be postponed until 2022 due to the pandemic, and that the company that had been overseeing the festival since 1995 would participate in the exploratory committee process, then step aside.
Nellams said Seattle should expect some kind of event in 2022 on Labor Day weekend but that the new producer’s plan could ramp things up more slowly over a longer timeline as well.
“I think the biggest thing for us is that we’re very excited about not just looking at this as a way of redoing things that have been done in the past but really kind of opening up the territory here and saying, ‘Look, we want to have the best ideas and the best concepts and something that we can actually look at over the long term that can be successful,’” Nellams said. “And if we can find something like that, then this will be great.”