A letter from the Executive Director
It may seem like 2017 Festival International is a distant memory, but we have been hard at work trying to close out one year and prepare for the next. As our fiscal year comes to an end, we’ve had some time to reflect and wanted to share some insight with you.
2016 was a challenging year for Acadiana. From a struggling economy to the August floods – all of us were affected in many ways and Festival International was not immune. Many of our major sponsors were experiencing trying times and had to adjust their support. The festival family stepped up and contributed in every way that they could to help us make it through. We want you to know how much your support means to our beloved Festival. This is a quick year-end report meant to fill you in on some of the behind the scenes happenings from last year, as well as some of the things coming up on the horizon.
Every year, we are tasked with raising between 1.1 and 1.5 million dollars to put on Festival. A third of this comes from Corporate sponsors, a third from small business and individual contributions and the other third from on-site sales (merchandise, pins, beverages, etc.), roughly. We usually start the year with a decent amount of Corporate funds secured, then we piece everything together on top of that.
However last year, none of our stages were secured. Starting at zero was a scary and daunting task. This is the biggest piece of our Corporate bucket, which is over $300,000. After reaching out to over 100 local companies, we were striking out. We reached out to a national audience for sponsors and still came up dry.
Parallel to these financial challenges, the staff at the Office of Visa Services was cut from over 100 employees to under 20. For our international musicians, this meant that lead times, costs and/or the chances of visas being rejected were all going to increase.
With these challenges piling up, we had some tough decisions to make. Cutting the Heritage Stage was not a decision that we made lightly, among other cuts. We cut our budget in all capacities and were prepared to cut more.
The community response to this news was humbling. It felt like the entire community stepped up and said, “There is no way that we are going to let Festival fail.” Large companies stepped up and secured our stages. Local businesses and individuals pitched in. It was an organic effort that felt right. It was the community that owned it and took pride in supporting it. This gave us renewed energy and enthusiasm to keep moving forward.
Another promising development was with new community involvement. While we are primarily a francophone celebration, we recognize that our community is more diverse than it was 30 years ago. This year we invited members from the Indian, Cuban, and Chinese communities to become involved. We connected with them through various performers representing their native countries. Those respective communities supported those efforts and helped to make it all possible. We are eternally grateful and are looking forward to continuing to nurture those relationships.
The Community Foundation of Acadiana
In January, things finally felt like they were turning around. Our Corporate bucket was filling up and our other fundraising buckets were starting to look better as well. We were able to ensure another year of a world-class event.
In addition to our internal efforts, we had an effort organized by a couple of long-time key supporters. There was a dedicated fund set up at The Community Foundation of Acadiana. Mr. Herbie and Mrs. Renee Schilling, as well as Mr. Don and Mrs. Darrelyn Burts seeded $95,000 into this account, which is meant to be a true “Rainy Day” fund. If / when we ever hit hard times, we will be able to request help from this fund to get through. Of course, our intention is to never get to this point. Another goal of the group is to raise enough money to pay off our new building. A new, permanent home in downtown means a hard asset that will provide some long-term financial stability.
The week of Festival
Despite strong winds and threatening weather, all in all, we feel great about how we were able to overcome many challenges and put on a great festival. Beverage sales were down, but merchandise sales were up. Attendance was slightly low on certain days, but spirits were high. Bottom line, we were able to make enough money to pay for the event and put some aside to fight future battles.
Looking to the future
We are in decent shape financially and great shape spiritually. We are encouraged by our Mayor’s CREATE initiative and look forward to working hand in hand to put Lafayette on the world map as a cultural destination. We have already participated in several meetings to help move this initiative along We are also working with local law enforcement to help ensure that our event and downtown Lafayette are safe, attractive, and family-friendly places for people from all walks to be.
We are going to be investing more money than ever into programming. We want to attract even more worldwide talent – on our stages, in our streets, and in our vendor booths. We will be spending more on production to improve that quality of shows. We will continue to cultivate our relationships with other foreign communities in Acadiana. Our goal is to have an even more diverse showing of music, art, and food. We are not looking to book bigger, more well-known acts – we want to book more eclectic, unique acts from around the world. We want you to experience things you would not experience anywhere else.
We are investing in infrastructures – such as electrics, buildings, and tents. We are working towards being financially stable so that we can withstand the storm when the economy takes a hit. We want to be a bright spot for Acadiana, no matter what happens.
We take pride in our work. We want you to know that you are an integral part of what brings the world to Lafayette. Your contribution means a lot to us. We are honored to have you as a part of our family and hope that you will continue to be. This year, we learned that we can not take this event for granted. If we want Festival to live on, it is up to all of us to do our part. As a supporter, we will keep you in the loop moving forward on all things Festival. We hope that you feel good about what we are working on and will continue to support these efforts.