Festival receives $100,000 donation

Posted Jan. 04, 2010, at 8:39 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The American Folk Festival received an anonymous donation of $100,000 last week, a gift that likely will help pay down old debts as the festival continues working toward financial solvency.

Heather McCarthy, executive director of the nonprofit festival, said anonymous donations of that size have been rare in the festival’s five-plus years of existence.

“This contribution, together with some other donations that we’ve received, gives our board additional reason to understand that our stakeholders are invested in this event,” she said Monday. “That said, the board is still very active in looking at options to finalize a budget for this year’s festival that is fiscally responsible and represents the quality of event we aim to produce.”

McCarthy said it was premature to comment on how the $100,000 donation would be used, and she hadn’t intended that news of the gift be made public now. However, in an e-mail she wrote last week to board members, McCarthy indicated that the funds would help the festival pay back debts for the 2009 event, which totaled approximately $130,000 as of September.

The festival still owes nearly $300,000 to the city of Bangor in debts that accrued over a multiyear period while the city acted as the festival’s financial agent.

The American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront was born in 2005 after the National Folk Festival ended a three-year run in Bangor. The event has drawn tens of thousands to the city each August but has operated at a substantial loss in all but one year the festival has been held.

Past years’ debts were paid by the city through a revolving line of credit and then reimbursed with revenue from the three-day event. Even when expenses consistently exceeded revenues, the city kept extending its line of credit until last year, when the city said no more. By that point, the festival owed about $280,000 to the city and then another $130,000 to cover debts for the 2009 festival.

Information about the undefined relationship between the festival and its host city had not been made public until a Bangor Daily News investigation last month. In the last several weeks, both the folk festival staff and city leaders have called for a more clearly defined relationship that details each side’s role and obligations.

City Council Chairman Richard Stone said the recent donation was certainly good news, but he also said the city is much more interested in hearing about how the festival plans to operate in the future.

Festival representatives are expected to meet with city councilors later this month to unveil a new, slimmed-down budget. McCarthy said she and board members have been working hard for the last several weeks to come up with a plan that puts the event on solid financial footing for the future and addresses past debt owed to the city. Although she declined to reveal details of the festival’s proposed budget, McCarthy said everything was considered carefully.

Also last week, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $30,000 Access to Artistic Excellence grant to the waterfront festival. That money is designated specifically to support artists’ fees, travel costs and production expenses for participants in the 2010 festival.

The recent donations and grants have been a validation that many still want the festival to succeed in spite of its financial troubles, McCarthy said.

“Obviously, we’re happy to get whatever donations people can support. It allows them to put their own value on the festival,” she said. “But we’re just as grateful for the smaller donations as we are for donations like this.”

For information about the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront or to make a donation, visit www.americanfolkfestival.com.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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