‘Adirondack Fiesta’ picked as carnival theme

SARANAC LAKE — After an intense and thought-provoking hour-long debate Wednesday night, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival Committee members picked “Adirondack Fiesta” as the theme of next year’s carnival.

It received the most votes among five possible theme choices, despite concerns raised by some committee members and local residents that, given the current political climate, a Mexican-inspired theme could be “culturally insensitive.” The biggest concern seemed to be about offensive costumes or portrayals of Spanish-speaking people.

“The scary part here is the damn wall, and somebody making that connection,” said committee member Marty Rowley, in a reference to President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it.

Supporters countered that the “Adirondack Fiesta” theme, which was originally put out to the public as “Frozen Fiesta,” could be an opportunity to educate people about the culture of all Spanish-speaking nations, not just Mexico, and celebrate that culture. They doubted people would take it the wrong way.

“I believe the community will overwhelmingly interpret this appropriately,” said committee member and Winter Carnival photographer Mark Kurtz.

The vote

In the final committee tally, “Adirondack Fiesta” received 12 votes. The next closest theme was “Totally ’80s,” which collected five votes. “Candy Carnival” received three, and “Under the Big Top” recorded just one vote. No votes were cast for a “Chinese New Year” theme.

In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s meeting, the public was able to vote on the potential theme choices via an Enterprise web poll and another on the Winter Carnival Facebook page. The results were flip-flopped.

A majority of Facebook users, 285, went for the “Totally ’80s” theme, followed by “Frozen Fiesta,” which received 150 votes, “Candy Carnival” (138 votes), “Under the Big Top” (70 votes) and “Chinese New Year” (42 votes).

In the Enterprise poll, “Under the Big Top” received the most votes with 5,520. “Frozen Fiesta” was second with 4,225, followed by “Candy Carnival” (767 votes), “Chinese New Year” (644 votes) and “Totally ’80s” (175 votes).

Committee members had said they would take the poll results, social media comments and personal comments into account in selecting the theme.


Winter Carnival Chairman Jeff Branch summarized concerns he’d heard about three of the possible themes.

“With ‘Under the Big Top,’ there are some people who are concerned with clowns and have a fear of clowns, which is a real phobia,” Branch said. “I do understand that (it could impact) a lot of kids, and that’s why we’re here, for the kids or the families.”

Branch said a few people thought having a “Chinese New Year” theme would be insulting to the Chinese culture. He said he received eight comments about the “Frozen Fiesta” theme. Some said it would be insensitive to the Mexican culture while others raised political issues, Branch said.

“I got more comments this time than I’ve ever heard across every other year,” said Eric Foster, vice chairman of the carnival. “There’s a lot of sensitivity to the cultural issues, because of the two themes that have cultural implications.”


Carnival publicity head Colleen O’Neill said people had approached her with “severe” concerns, mostly about the “Fiesta” theme.

“Saranac Lake as a whole, we’re a good community, and everybody usually does the right thing,” she said. “But there’s also a small amount of people who don’t do the right thing, whether it’s ignorance or purposeful. It could be someone dressing up in an offensive way. And in terms of politics, people were just saying it’s a bad year for that.”

Gail Brill read comments about a potential “Fiesta” theme from a Mexican-American friend who lives in Saranac Lake.

“She said it’s a tone-deaf theme, especially in the current political environment. Unfortunately, there’s really no good way to pull it off without racial undertones. The potential for offensive costumes, accents, signs and rhetoric is very high. This area lacks diversity, and many well-intentioned attempts at embracing other cultures comes off badly.”


“So 4,000 people like it, and four or five don’t?” asked committee member Liz Murray. “I’m sorry. We can’t please everybody. I don’t understand how, if we have a carnival called ‘Fiesta,’ that is culturally insulting anyone.” (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article misidentified Liz Murray as Liz Bennett.)

Asked how she thinks a “Fiesta” theme would play out, Murray said, “I see colorful. I see lively. I see energy.”

Sombreros, pinatas, salsa dancing and a Cinco de Mayo-type celebration were mentioned by other supporters.

“I don’t understand why we can’t celebrate other cultures with a positive Adirondack twist to it,” said committee member Barbara Martin.


A few people spoke up in favor of the “Totally ’80s” theme. Janine and Holland Meads and Katie Fischer said it may be the best because it’s the least controversial. Branch said he’d already thought of a way to interpret it in the Ice Palace: designing it like a 1980s Apple Macintosh personal computer with a screen in the middle for the carnival slideshow.

Branch suggested the committee put off the “Fiesta” theme for a year, in the hope that the political fever over immigration and U.S.-Mexico relations will subside by then. But he also worried that if it’s put off, it could never make it to the table again.

“I don’t know if we’re giving the community enough credit to do the right thing,” Kurtz said. “I think the community will embrace (the ‘Fiesta’ theme) the way we all envision it. I also think, from a political standpoint, it could turn things around and be a positive thing.”

As the discussion wrapped up and most in the group seemed to coalesce around “Adirondack Fiesta,” Kurtz noted that they could change the theme when they meet again in September if there’s a big backlash.