By Kat Walsh
Blame it on Bonnie.
Tropical Storm Bonnie, which struck Beaufort over Memorial Day weekend, cancelled many picnics and cookouts in the area. It also washed out the 30th anniversary of the Gullah Festival, one of the Lowcountry’s longest-running annual cultural festivals.
Now organizers are looking for help to prevent this year’s washout from wiping out the festival entirely.
In order to schedule the festival again for next year, Thomas Hicks, festival chairman, said his committee needs to raise $40,000 to cover financial obligations to the city of Beaufort and honor contracts with numerous vendors and performers.
“It is important that we carry on this 30-year tradition,” said Hicks. “The festival plays a significant role in celebrating our Gullah heritage and teaching visitors about our unique place in history.”
The 2016 Gullah Festival was set to be a four-day event with the majority of attractions held outdoors at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
When the storm swept through the area, organizers scrambled to move events under cover, but attendance dropped dramatically, hurting ticket sales and overnight packages for out-of-towners.
The Gullah Festival began in 1986 after founder Rozalie Pazant and others requested seed money from the city of Beaufort. Mayor Henry Chambers convinced a majority of city council that the festival would benefit Beaufort both culturally and economically.
Since then, the festival has grown into a major tourist attraction and draws thousands of people from all over the world.
“What we have here, in Beaufort County and the Sea Islands of South Carolina, is special and beautiful,” said Hicks. “We want to make sure our vibrant Gullah history and its food, language, dancing, music, story-telling and spirituality are preserved for future generations and the world.”
Donations are being accepted at the festival’s Go Fund Me page www.gofundme.com/gullahfestival and by mail or in person at WKWQ 100.7 FM Gullah Radio, located in the Regions Bank Building on Robert Smalls Parkway.
The festival is an official nonprofit organization and donations are tax deductible.
For more information, visit www.theoriginalgullahfestival.org.