As opening day for the Carroll County Arts Council's annual PEEPshow rapidly approaches, organizers, volunteers and employees are working frantically to prepare the sweet treats for their artistic debut in time for the thousands of guests who will soon pour through the doors of the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster.
For the Arts Council, the PEEPshow is the centerpiece of the year — its Super Bowl — bringing in more money for the nonprofit than any other single event. Guests come from around the county, state and entire region to catch sight of these marshmallow sculptures, dioramas and displays created by more than 100 of Carroll's sugar-stained creatives. Over the 13 days of the PEEPshow, more than 30,000 people are expected to arrive at the Carroll Arts Center, spending upwards of $75,000 on voting chips, treats and Peeps merchandise.
To help prepare for the onslaught of Peep fanatics and curious onlookers, Arts Center staff are working tirelessly to make sure the PEEPshow runs smoothly.
Arts Council Executive Director Sandy Oxx said preparations for the PEEPshow usually begin immediately after the closure of the previous year's event with a debriefing about what worked and what didn't, and brainstorming about the next show. This year, plans are already underway for the 2018 PEEPshow as the organization decides how best to schedule the show. Oxx said it takes thorough assessment to figure out when people are coming into the show, when to order merchandise and when to start accepting submissions to not conflict with the annual Barleyjuice St. Patrick's Day concert.
During the length of the PEEPshow, the Carroll Arts Center will extend its hours, opening to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day — an extra 11 hours each week they have to staff. To aid the Arts Center staff in managing crowds, they have 21 volunteer slots during each day of the PEEPshow, selling merchandise, guiding crowds and encouraging visitors to see the event.
One of the most grueling tasks of getting ready for the PEEPshow is simply accepting and displaying the titular Peep sculptures. This year, the PEEPshow features more than 175 original Peep displays, all of which need to find a home in the three galleries of the Carroll Arts Center, not always an easy proposition when some pieces can top out at 8 feet tall.
"There's so much pressure now," Oxx said. "I know how much time and money and effort people put in these things. I worry about whether they will like this position or being put next to this other one."
This year has added an addition level of preparation as the council introduces online voting to the PEEPshow process. In order to have an equal chance in the voting process, the Arts Council has enlisted professionals to photograph each and every entry that comes through the door, each of which then needs to be captioned and uploaded to the Carroll Arts Center website.
While this year has some new challenges, Oxx said she's already planning — and worrying about — next year's PEEPshow.
"With Gov. (Larry) Hogan's change in the school schedule, we only have two school holidays in the spring," Oxx said. "This year, we have five school holidays, and on those days people will be lined up around the block. We're going to look very carefully this year at attendance on those days to make our plans."
Hogan signed an executive order last summer the requires public schools in Maryland to start after Labor Day and wrap up by June 15. Most school systems, including Carroll, chopped days from the spring break around Easter to accommodate the governor's order.
The 2017 PEEPshow is scheduled for Friday, April 8 through Wednesday, April 19, intentionally designed to coincide with days off for Carroll, Baltimore and Howard county students to encourage travel from around the state to the celebration.
Despite the difficulties of putting the PEEPshow together each year, Oxx said she is thrilled by the reaction of the community to the show. She said she's had other groups reach out to ask for her advice on starting their own Peep shows, but tells them there's really only one key to what makes the celebration a success.
"What's most important is the relationship with the artists or the people who like you enough to go out and spend $200 on Peeps," Oxx said. "You can't put a number on it. You can't put hours on it. I think it's the reflection of the relationships we've built starting with the Festival of Wreaths. I'm so honored this community has embraced this."
If you go
What: 10th annual PEEPshow
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, April 7 through Wednesday, April 19
For more information: Visit www.carrollartscenter.org or call 410-848-7272.