Salisbury Chamber cancels fall ‘Torches’ event

TORCHES logoThe torch is an emblem of enlightenment, hope and truth. A flame symbolizes regenerative powers, and fire is most always included in important social and religious events.

With Salisbury in a new renaissance, blazing torches were slated as a central element in this fall’s new, huge, ambitious community celebration, “Torches – Celebrating Community.”

But those flames are being doused even before they were formally lit.

The Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, which organized Torches as a successor to the 32-year Salisbury Festival, announced Wednesday that it will have to delay the event until next fall.

“We had very high expectations for what we wanted to achieve with Torches,” said Tony Nichols, Chamber of Commerce chairman. “As the event got closer, several factors involved in the planning caused us to realize we couldn’t produce the quality-event that we wanted in the time available.”

Designed to showcase arts and culture of the local region, Torches was scheduled to be held along the Downtown Riverwalk during the weekend of Oct. 2, during Salisbury University’s popular Sea Gull Century Ride.

With a focus on art, the community celebration planned to feature talents of visual and performing artists and arts-related activities including a plein air paint out; main stage featuring music, dance and theater performances; and  exhibits of blown glass, paintings, printmaking, sculptures, pottery and jewelry.

Crucial to the event were plans to create a huge torches-lit luminary field that would provide a glow for the assorted food stands, live musical performances and a carnival.

“We had plans that each evening would kick off with a mesmerizing opening ceremony that would light up the river and transform Downtown,” said Nichols. “The torches were to be Torches’ must-see attraction.”

Luminaries and torches and were also essential to the event’s business model. Local businesses would have been invited to participate and interact in the lighting ceremony by sponsoring a torch. Nonprofit and community organizations would have sold torches and luminaries to raise funds.

During the planning, however, safety questions arose over the planned “Procession of Torches.” Concerns about the locally constructed fire pots also played a significant factor.

“When we thought more about the Procession of Torches, safety became a consideration,” Nichols said. “We thought of just pre-mounting torches on pilings along the River Walk, but realized that would not have the same effect as a procession of torches coming in and being placed into mounting holders.”

Nichols said the Fire Pots that would have illuminated the event needed to be professionally constructed to meet safety demands, and that was a hinderance in meeting event deadlines.

He said the Chamber organizers considered downsizing their plans, but quickly rejected that idea.

“It became clear that we would not be providing what was promised to our sponsors and event partners,” he said, “which we unanimously determined was unacceptable.”

Stephanie Willey, the event’s committee chair, said the Chamber will now focus on delivering an event for fall 2016. But, she said, there’s no guarantee until the committee digs deeper into planning.

“We will work to ensure planning of an event that will be full of energy, people, the arts,” she said. “It will be a community coming together to celebrate with pride where we live, work and play.”

A structured committee of community leaders and volunteers has been planning the event for more than a year in coordination with Wicomico County and city of Salisbury officials.

From the beginning, the objective was to create a premiere event that will give community members and visitors an opportunity to celebrate the renaissance of Downtown Salisbury. Because of a public perception that the Salisbury Festival had devolved into little more than a block party with some amusement park rides, the ideal was to develop a truly significant event.

One thing the planners determined during their discussions is that outside-professional help and guidance is essential.

“A critical component of the event requires significant out-of-market professional assistance,” said Chamber CEO Ernie Colburn. “Acquiring this component will take some time and additional resources. We did not want to launch a new event if it did not meet our Chamber’s high level of excellence.”

In lieu of this year’s Torches, the Chamber will be hosting the carnival portion of the festivities in Downtown on Friday evening, Oct. 2, and Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 3-4, as well as co-marketing with First Saturday.

Headquarters Live will be hosting entertainment all that weekend as well as a beer garden event Sunday afternoon.

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