Pumpkin pause

An intricate jack-o’-lantern in Central Square gave pause to many onlookers during the 2018 Keene Pumpkin Festival.

Organizers of the Keene Pumpkin Festival say they want to hand over the event to a new generation of leadership before the end of the year.

Tim Zinn, board chairman of festival organizer Let It Shine, said Friday he hopes a new group can take the festival to its next phase, whether that means keeping it as is or talking to the local community about growing it.

“We feel like we brought it back, we kept ... the candle from flickering out, and we’re just kind of hopeful that there’s a new team with fresh ideas,” he said.

He said it probably makes most sense for a new set of board members to take over the established nonprofit organization, but is open to ideas.

Let It Shine announced its plans in a statement Thursday signed by Zinn and sent to news outlets by fellow board member Ruth Sterling.

“The Let It Shine Board is at a crossroads and feels the time is right to bow out and hand the [reins] over to the next generation of pumpkin faithful,” the statement said. “Although three members of our Board own property in Keene, most are spending time in other locales.”

The statement said the current board wants to turn the festival over to new leadership by Nov. 30. “We are willing to work through a training and transition period,” it said.

The statement said the festival could be run by a “team with a well-rounded skill set” including experience with business, logistics, marketing and communications.

“Our team’s just ready,” Zinn said Friday, noting that he has been involved for about five years. “There’s no magic formula. I think you know when the time feels right.”

Thursday’s statement also said that Let It Shine will not organize the event this year, and is instead suggesting a “self-managed” festival.

Earlier this summer, organizers had proposed a modified festival with pumpkins carved by local students displayed in front of downtown businesses, creating a sort of jack-o’-lantern walking tour.

“We had really kind of hoped to pull something off for the community this year, but I think everybody’s just struggling with priorities,” Zinn said — especially schools, which have participated in the event in past years.

Instead, he explained, homes and businesses can display their own pumpkins and post photos on the Keene Pumpkin Festival’s Facebook page to foster some sense of community.

Founded in 1991, the downtown festival at one point grew to encompass tens of thousands of carved pumpkins — it set a world record in 2013, with more than 30,500 jack-o’-lanterns — and draw throngs of visitors.

The festival went on hiatus after 2014, when riots erupted near Keene State College, outside the event’s boundaries. The following year, city officials denied organizers a permit.

It returned to Central Square in 2017 with a much smaller version that was geared toward children, and continued in 2018 and 2019.

“We kind of kept that pure heartbeat of the festival, which was keeping the kids happy and smiles on their faces,” Zinn said.

In a separate statement on her website, dated Sept. 2, Sterling wrote that she was proud of what she had achieved with the festival, and an unspecified recent experience had prompted her to reconsider her commitment to it. “Ten years of feeling responsible for pumpkins in Downtown Keene is maybe enough,” she wrote.

Paul Cuno-Booth can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1409, or pbooth@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @PCunoBoothKS