Private source funding for Folk Festival rising

Posted July 20, 2010, at 9:27 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — With about a month to go before the 2010 American Folk Festival — the first in six years to operate without significant support from its host city — organizers are upbeat about fundraising efforts to date.

Executive Director Heather McCarthy, along with Michael Aube and Rick Fournier of the festival’s board of directors, said Tuesday that money has been coming in steadily from a variety of sources.

“We’ve instituted some new [fundraising] programs and enlisted people with a lot of energy to seek funding sources. It’s been really positive,” McCarthy said.

One of those new programs, the Producers’ Circle, which solicits individual donors willing to commit $1,000 or more, has generated 33 members so far.

Corporate sponsorship also is on track to outpace last year’s total of $230,000. Among the requests sent to businesses so far in 2010, McCarthy said 84 sponsors have committed to giving the same level of support they did in 2009. Eight sponsors have pledged more money and only five have decreased their donation. Addition-ally, the festival has recruited nine new corporate sponsors.

“I think in the wake of some of the challenges we faced last year, it’s wonderful to see the business community continue supporting this festival,” Aube said.

The American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront was born in 2005 after Bangor ended a three-year run hosting the National Folk Festival. The event has been popular but also has accrued significant debt over the course of five years, most of which has been paid by the city of Bangor through surplus funds.

Last year, the city of Bangor cut off funding, prompting festival organizers to take a harder look at the budget. Earlier this year, the folk festival board unveiled a 2010 budget that cut $140,000 from expenses in an effort to keep the event financially solvent.

Bangor city councilors responded by formalizing a three-year agreement with festival organizers that gradually draws down municipal support for the annual waterfront event. The agreement reduces the city’s financial obligation but puts more weight on private donations.

Fournier, who serves as treasurer of the Folk Festival board of directors, said the budget revenue projections of $973,800 that were released earlier this year are on target. He also stressed that revenue generated during the festival from vendor fees and proceeds from alcohol sales and from the bucket brigade is crucial. The estimated cost to put on the 2010 festival is $899,800.

“We’re trying to educate festival-goers of the cost it takes to put this event on versus the benefits to those who attend,” he said. “It really is a bargain.”

Although the festival remains free, some changes were made for 2010 to keep costs down. The number of stages will decrease from six to four, the festival will contract directly for technical services rather than relying on an outside service, and the festival will expand the selection of crafters and vendors to increase revenue.

Based on the agreement reached earlier this year, the city has committed to providing in-kind services — including but not limited to police, fire, public works and engineering duties — not to exceed $65,000. McCarthy said festival staff would use those services wisely.

Any extra revenue generated by the 2010 festival will be used to pay down nearly $300,000 in debt owed to the city. Aube said the festival’s fundraising structure is set up for long-term sustainability in a way that it never has been before.

“I think having the discussions we had earlier this year and asking ourselves some tough questions will actually be a benefit in the long run,” he said.

On a final note, McCarthy said she thinks the new Hollywood Slots Waterfront Concert Series will act as a nice complement to the Folk Festival, and its organizers already have pledged to donate the use of one main stage for the festival.

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