Government & Politics

Big KC arts festival planned for this fall has been postponed

Last year Kansas City Mayor Sly James laid out a vision for a giant KC arts festival in fall 2017, like those in Chicago, Baltimore and many other cities. The City Council approved $250,000 in seed money to get the planning underway.

But it’s now clear that the city can’t pull it together this year.

“The biggest feedback I’ve gotten is that fall of this year is too ambitious,” said Megan Crigger, director of Kansas City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services, who is charged with pulling the event together. “So next fall is where we’re shooting.”

James made a pitch in October 2016 for $250,000 in neighborhood tourism tax dollars for a signature festival to highlight Kansas City’s visual, musical, dance, tech and other arts accomplishments. He envisioned a three-day event in September 2017 in Swope Park, to “showcase the creative potential that is in this city.”

James did not directly respond to a request for comment about that fact that it’s not happening this year as he had hoped.

In a statement, his office said: “The Mayor is glad to see this project moving forward. September of this year was an ambitious goal, but he recognizes the steps required to initiate something like this take time and coordination. Most important, the progress made so far ensures a world-class event that showcases the tradition of arts and music in Kansas City.”

In his 2016 pitch, James was acting on one of the main recommendations from the mayor’s task force on the arts in 2013.

The City Council voted 11-2 in early October in favor of spending $250,000 in Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund money to help launch the festival, even though it was the second-largest NTDF fund grant in at least the past five years. It was also for a project that wasn’t nearly as well defined as the city’s process usually requires.

Council members Quinton Lucas and Jermaine Reed dissented, saying the decision could sap funds from worthwhile events that are truly neighborhood based. Supporters said the festival was a top priority for the arts community.

Crigger said the $250,000 was not spent in the fiscal year that ended April 30, so it should just roll over for spending in this fiscal year that began May 1. But she acknowledged that the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund board, an advisory group, must review that rollover request and recommend its approval.

She did not know when the NTDF board would hold a special meeting to consider this funding but said it should be July or August.

NTDF board co-chairs Jason Pryor and Dona Stephenson would not comment on whether their board was likely to approve that renewal.

“The NTDF Committee is aware of the project and the scheduling delay of the event,” they said in an emailed statement. “We look forward to receiving more details about the progress of the event.”

Ultimately, the City Council must approve the renewal of that money. Crigger also acknowledged that planners are likely to seek an additional $250,000 in city funds, for a total city contribution of $500,000. She said it’s hoped that the city funding would help leverage private dollars.

The total proposed festival budget, in a submission from O’Neill Marketing, is $1.8 million in revenue and $1.7 million in expenses.

The project planning got off to a bumpy start last fall. The first City Council ordinance listed the Mid-America Regional Council as the nonprofit fiscal agent for the funds. But MARC’s mission didn’t work for this type of project, so in December, KC Creates, which hosts the Fringe Festival and a few other events, was selected as the nonprofit umbrella organization.

It took until March for Crigger’s office to finalize the agreement with KC Creates, and that organization began the competitive solicitation process to choose the production manager, project manager and artistic curator.

Crigger acknowledges that most events funded by NTDF already have this put together, but this is an event that the city is trying to create from scratch.

“Because the festival is being driven by the city, there’s a different framework for allocating those dollars,” she said, arguing that the neighborhood tourism dollars, going to artists and arts organizations, are the best funding source for the festival.

The NTDF ordinance prohibits proposals which include hiring staff, securing consultant/planning services, or market studies, but Crigger said the NTDF spending will not include those costs.

In April, KC Creates selected O’Neill Marketing and Event Management as the festival producer; O’Neill has produced the Irish Fest and other major events for years. Lea Petrie, who has worked with the Lyric Opera, the Kansas City Ballet and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, was selected as project manager. Those contracts are being finalized. The search for an artistic curator and branding firm are underway.

Last month, Crigger paid consultant Dan Cameron $3,900 out of non-NTDF funds, to host several focus groups with arts professionals on the logistics and programming. Crigger said the reaction was very positive, but also uniformly recommended waiting until September or October of next year.

She said she hopes to nail down the dates for the event soon, working for Kansas City park board approval, based on Swope Park’s availability. They also need to pick a name for the event and start the private fundraising.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley