In 1992, Don Lunday, former Executive Director of International Festivals Association (IFA) and Ruth Schnabel, former Executive Director of Festivals at Tahoe, pulled together a group of seven festival executives in California, all members of IFA, to talk about forming a new state-wide organization. The meeting was held on the famous Delta King, an old steamer moored in the waters of the Sacramento River in the Old Sacramento area.
The Founding Members included Richard Nicholls, Executive Director of the Gilroy Garlic Festival; Bill Lofthouse, President of Phoenix Decorating; Ruth Schnabel, Laura DeOrio of the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau; Don Lunday; Jack French, Executive Director of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses; Terry Pimsleur, President of Terry Pimsleur & Company (Not pictured)
The group believed there was need for a professional association that could inform, educate, support, and provide networking opportunities to local state-wide festival organizers close to home. Many smaller events did not have the budget to send staff or volunteers around the country or abroad to IFA conventions or workshops. The unincorporated group became California Festivals and Events Association. Schnabel was the first president of the Board of Directors and Lunday was hired as the first executive director.
The organization started with 50 charter members. The first conference was held in San Bernardino in September, 1993 in conjunction with Route 66 Rendezvous. CalFest was incorporated as a 501(c) 6 in 1995. In March, 1994, during the conference in San Luis Obispo, Ruth Schnabel moved from her position as president of the board of directors to the executive director’s position. At that same time, CalFest affiliated with IFA. Under the affiliation, member organizations were members of both CalFest and IFA. Shortly thereafter, IFA (International Festivals Association) changed its name to IFEA (International Festivals and Events Association). In 1997 CalFest expanded to include the State of Nevada.
In 2002, IFEA reorganized and restructured the state chapter system into larger, regional programs. Not wanting to lose its identity, CalFest disaffiliated from IFEA to return to its independent status serving both California and Nevada with its own staff. CalFest remains committed to helping existing and newly formed festivals and events throughout California and Nevada.
CalFest holds an annual convention, in February, alternating between Northern and Southern California and Nevada. In addition, workshops and behind-the-scenes tours are held throughout both states providing an opportunity to visit festivals and events to learn the latest trends in the industry and share information.