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Meredith McIlmoyle, Anacortes Arts Festival Director

Anacortes Arts Festival executive director Meredith McIlmoyle has been event planning for 26 years. She began as a student assistant at Arizona State University, solo planning an event for the first time in 1993. She grew up in Denver, then lived in Arizona for 13 years, but now calls Anacortes home after living here for 16 years.

McIlmoyle describes event planning as 90 percent problem-solving, and she’s adamant about it. “It’s rare to catch me in a moment where I think something can’t be figured out… It may not be an ideal solution, but it’s a solution,” she says. In addition to finding solutions, McIlmoyle likes watching people be happy and enjoys putting together celebrations: “It lights me up.”

As the executive director of the Anacortes Arts Festival, McIlmoyle helps people celebrate art. The annual event drew 260 artists this past August and about 85,000 visitors, she said, and the artisan booths sold a combined total of $2 million. The festival has been going on for 55 years, making it a piece of the community and Anacortes history. McIlmoyle believes it’s her duty to continue the tradition.

The biggest challenge is dealing with the logistics of hosting a large festival in a small downtown. Solving problems like parking, restrooms, and vendor placement aren’t glamorous, but are necessary. Each year, McIlmoyle and her team ask the questions, “How can we make this more fun, more energizing, make guests feel more included in the experience?” McIlmoyle can’t always fix everything. She accepts that unsolvable complaints are inevitable. This year was the sea-gull noise. A few vendors asked if she could do anything about the loud squawking the groups of fat birds made. It was out of her hands.

The art festival is three days of celebration and the joy is palpable. In this turbulent time in world and domestic politics and events, McIlmoyle found she had helped produce a welcome respite from the real world during the festival. “There were three days where people were looking at art, listening to music, and having a beer,” she said. Time seemed to stop. McIlmoyle felt that “we can just not worry for three days. It made me feel like I made a difference.”

When not planning the festival, McIlmoyle and her team seek opportunities to bring art into the community, sometimes tying it to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs to fight the perception that art isn’t important or a worthy expenditure of time. “Our society continues to challenge the importance of art,” she explained. The art festival coordinators want to show “how vibrant art makes a community and the richness it brings.”

McIlmoyle’s optimism and can-do attitude go beyond events. She applies it to her life and wants other women to feel empowered to do the same. A mother of two young boys, McIllmoyle wanted to continue her career while devoting time to raising her children. She didn’t want to choose career or family, so she found ways to balance both. McIlmoyle wants to spread the message that “women can have their cake and eat it too.” Women can have fulfilling careers and raise their children to be good humans. “You don’t have to sacrifice things. Women are powerful, we can do it all. We just have to believe in ourselves.” Because when it comes down to it, there’s a solution for everything.

"'There were three days where people were looking at art, listening to music, and having a beer,' she said."