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Iris festival and its future

Diamond in the Rough, the 2016 Keizer Iris Festival, kicked off earlier this month with the opening of the Keizer Art Association’s Iris and the Flowers exhibit including the art piece chosen for the 2017 festival (Merren Garland’s Total Eclipse of the Heart) on display through May 28.

The Keizer Volunteer Fire Fighters Association held their annual Mother’s Day Breakfast; Cathy Clark led the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Last weekend two young women, Sydney Martindale and Elizabeth Russell, were chosen as the 2016 Keizer’s Distinguished Young Women.

It’s been a busy festival thus far; it really kicks into high gear this weekend with the opening of the Keizerfest tent and its full weekend of live entertainment. The festival will feature the pet parade and a total of five running events.

The centerpiece of the festival is the Iris Festival Parade on Saturday. Traffic routes will be affected, but that’s a small price to pay to celebrate one’s community.

The festival is our community’s biggest event. Years ago, the Iris Festival was on the event calendar all by itself. These days it is impossible to find a weekend any time of the year that is event-free. A proliferation of festivals, concerts, tournaments and fundraisers over the past 10 years has divided the public’s attention.

What used to be ‘parade Saturday’ is now jockeying for audiences with a number of other events in our area and throughout the region. Therein lies the challenge for the Keizer Chamber of Commerce, organizer and beneficiary of the festival—organizing and promoting a festival that Keizerites feel they cannot miss.

The festival has seen many changes over the years, ebbing and flowing with the desires of the public. The parade is the linchpin of the Iris event; the Keizerfest tent is as popular as the music acts that play and the beverages served. The Keizerfest tent serves as reunion of sorts—former McNary High School classmates reconnect, friends, separated by busy daily lives, get together and catch up.

Beside the parade, the five running events have become a major attraction for the festival—a marathon, a half marathon and 10-, 5- and 3-K races bring thousands of people out.

The Iris Festival is the one time of the year for Keizer to show itself off. Thoughts of turning the festival into a regional event faded over the years.  Staging a festival this large is not easy nor inexpensive. The number of volunteers needed is titanic. After decades of the Iris Festival being run by volunteers (whom get harder to recruit on the scale required for the task), it might be time to hire a full-time event planner.

Keizer is on the cusp of positive and beneficial growth. Hundreds of new housing units are being added, as are new retail stores and a possible expansion of the city limits to the north.  There is a lot to celebrate about Keizer. The Iris Festival is and should remain our best advertisement.   —LAZ