The organizers behind Carmel’s proposed film and music festival might have to come up with an additional $825,000 without the help of the City Council in order to debut the event next May.
Council members questioned Wednesday night whether it would be appropriate for the city to continue spending money on next year’s proposed festival when there is still so much uncertainty about the event’s budget, the spread of the coronavirus and future tax revenue. Several council members said, despite their support for the arts, it’s just “bad timing.”
“I feel like we’ve got bigger priorities to focus on,” council member Sue Finkam said. “I don’t want another dime spent on this.”
Carmel Community Relations and Economic Development Director Nancy Heck and Mayor Jim Brainard originally requested $425,000 from the city’s 2019 budget for a festival bringing symphony performances and film premieres to Carmel City Center, but councilors only approved $50,000 in October to start exploring the idea.
Since then, festival organizers have hired former Carmel Downtown City Center Development Corp. board member Mary Buckler and Carmel Symphony Orchestra music director Jana Hymes to lead the event.
Heck said the festival’s not-for-profit has formed a board and approved a draft budget for the event to run May 14-23, but Heck had technical difficulties and was unable to share them at Wednesday’s meeting. Council President Laura Campbell said she was disappointed to see—after repeated requests—Heck had not included that information in the evening’s packet of materials.
“This entire process for this festival has been very painful and a disappointing one,” Campbell said. “I think it’s time we rip the Band-Aid off.”
After relaying a preliminary budget to the council, Heck told IBJ after the meeting that the Carmel Film and Music Festival is anticipating the event’s total budget will be $608,000 in 2020 and $925,560 in 2021.
“We can’t really sign a contract with entertainers unless we have a purchase order, so we have to have that money sitting there, even though we won’t spend it until 2021,” Heck said.
Heck said, in addition to sponsorships and grants, the festival was planning to ask the council for $825,000—$375,000 in 2020 and $450,000 in 2021.
To help with that, Brainard said he is in discussions with an unnamed event sponsor that could provide the festival with $1 million over the course of its first five years. He said bringing the festival to the city could be just what small businesses, restaurants and hotels need to help recoup losses caused by the pandemic.
“It would bring a tremendous amount of business to the city from other places,” Brainard said. “I understand the risk and perception, but I believe there’s a good argument to be made that our investments in the arts have paid off.”
Council member Adam Aasen said he understands the economic value of bringing in additional arts and film organizations, but he’s concerned about the message that might send to the arts organizations currently suffering in Carmel due to the pressures of the pandemic.
“They have a lot of revenue that they’ve lost, and I wonder how those organizations feel about us giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to new arts organizations,” Aasen said. “The timing may just not be right, right now.”
Heck said, over the next few weeks, she’s hoping to build community support and research indicators that the film industry is in recovery. She’s hoping, with enough outside funding, she might be able to convince the council to still partner on the project.
“I hope they don’t totally pull out right now because I think there are a lot of things up in the air that might shake out,” Heck said.