Asheville City Council’s informal decision last week to stop funding Bele Chere after this year came as a jolt. While we wait to sort out the festival’s future (it will go on this July), here’s my look at how Bele Chere and downtown parted ways. From Sunday’s Asheville Citizen-Times:
The decision not to produce Bele Chere also coincides with a push to remake the city job of superintendent of cultural arts, a position that’s been vacant since Diane Ruggiero left in September. It was Ruggiero’s job to manage the city’s cultural arts programming, public art and festivals, and she had two full-time colleagues and one part-time worker to get the job done.
A group of arts supporters last week asked City Council to remake the job into one for a “creative economy director,” a title that recognizes the economic impact of the arts in Asheville. The Public Art and Cultural Commission told council members that nonprofit arts and culture generated $43.7 million in Buncombe County last year and supported 1,427 full-time jobs.
Bele Chere will go on during the last weekend of July this year, just like it has for the last 34 years, but it’s unclear what the future holds. While City Council has informally agreed it would not budget for Bele Chere next year, it could still lend support with city services such as police security and garbage pick-up. Roderick Simmons, head of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department that oversees the event, said his employees are simply moving ahead with planning this year’s event.
The Asheville Downtown Association could be one possible suitor for Bele Chere. The nonprofit produces several events for the city, including the Downtown After Five series of concerts on Lexington Avenue, the fall Oktoberfest beer festival and the winter Holiday Parade, an event it took over from the Asheville Merchants Association a couple of years ago.
Good article in the AC-T, it provided a much clearer view of what Bele Chere actually provides & costs.
Whether you “like” the festival or not, City Council’s decision is based not on emotions but on costs & numbers. Council says that it costs taxpayers an annual $450+K, when actually they don’t even know their own policy is to come back into the black after the festival is all said in done each year.
Last year the festival’s revenue was $16K, the year before it made over $83K.
The actual cost to the city is in staff & departmental resources & services. (wouldn’t the city still give a lot of resources and services if an organization like the ADA took over?)
I’d like to see the press find a way to actually translate those jobs & services into numbers so City Council has some actual numerical facts before basing their decision; because I’m not sure they’d really save as much as they’d like to have us think.
And, if they cut those staff members who run Bele Chere, I suppose that in turn kills off all the other festivals that the City sponsors as well?
(Easter Eggstavaganza at Carrier Park, 4th of July, Holidays Tails & Hey Day at the Nature Center, etc.) So are they equating those savings into the budget as well?
I’m not really for or against the festival either way – although I think that if a private entity took it over we could legally ban the street preacher element — which would do a lot for enjoyment factor of the festival.
But I’d like the numbers to be real and for council to know & relate the full extent of the facts on this matter.
Why can’t Bele Chere continue out at the AGRI Center across from the airport?