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Cityfolk cancels festival, 2013-14 season

Cityfolk, the non-profit organization that has shared artistic traditions from across America and around the world since 1980, has suspended all programming for 2013-14 and has cancelled its annual summer festival. In addition, the previously announced partnership between Cityfolk and the Dayton Art Institute has been cancelled.

Reasons cited were financial challenges due to a decrease in sponsorship and season ticket sales as well as two consecutive festivals that had lower attendance and lower revenue than anticipated, according to Cityfolk board president Matt Dunn.

The official announcements came in a letter addressed to “Our Cityfolk Family” from Dunn and in a joint statement from the Dayton Art Institute’s Executive Director Michael R. Roediger and Associate Director Jane A. Black.

“It is with heavy heart that I write to inform you that at last night’s meeting of the Cityfolk Board of Trustees, the Board voted to suspend — with the exception of jazz programming and two scheduled performances co-sponsored by the University of Dayton — all other programming,” Dunn wrote. “Specifically, we will be canceling the 2013-14 season, discontinuing Culture Builds Community (an educational outreach program), and will not be planning for a 2014 festival.”

Dunn said the Cityfolk board had an operating budget that had dropped from $850,000 in 2009 to less than $500,000 in the past few years. In 2012, severe storms resulted in a 60 percent drop in festival revenue. He said the board had taken measures to save the organization: reducing staff, launching a special campaign in September 2012, charging admission at this year’s festival, and working with the art museum to form a new partnership. None of those solutions succeeded in rescuing the organization.

“We were almost at the end of the fiscal year, which ends in September, and we were seeing the final numbers weren’t coming in — both for the season and the festival,” Dunn explained. “We had hoped for 12,000 (festival-goers) and only had 6,000 at the festival (this year).”

He said the festival expenses run about $250,000 and they were hoping to raise $130,000 between admission and beverage sales. They only raised about half that amount. Lower festival attendance and revenue was attributed to weather (rain across parts of the area) and a first-time admission charge.

“Two years ago, we had a suggested donation of $5 and people seemed responsive; last year the whole festival was cancelled because of weather and we thought people would be understanding that it takes money to put on a festival,” Dunn said. “We charged $7 a day, had 23 bands, entertainment for children; we thought it was a value.”

Jean Howat Berry was one of two full-time employees who worked as Cityfolk education and outreach manager until her job was eliminated on July 12. The organization’s executive director Kathleen Alter’s position was eliminated that same day.

“It has really just been a really tough couple of years from a financial point of view and it’s so unfortunate that the mission of Cityfolk is so simpatico with Dayton’s growth right now,” Berry said. “I really think we’re going to have to find different strategies for funding all of the things we have going on here.” 

Berry said everyone hoped that the idea of a Dayton Art Institute and Cityfolk partnership might save the organization.

The art museum collaboration, according to Black and Roediger, was initiated last fall when the Cityfolk executive board approached The Dayton Art Institute about forming a partnership that would “realize operational efficiencies, while creating synergies between our programs, allowing each entity to fulfill its mission.”

The plan was for Cityfolk to become a resident company at the museum with a management agreement for services provided by DAI staff. The office move was slated to take place this week.

“Unfortunately, neither Cityfolk’s 2012-2013 season nor the Cityfolk Festival met their goals, and in the end, they just could not make the numbers work,” Roediger and Black said.

Dunn said the board will continue to meet to determine how to operate the jazz funding and “there is a ray of hope” that there could be future fund-raising.

Involved with Cityfolk as a volunteer since 2001, Dunn said he loved the fact that Cityfolk “reminded us we’re part of something larger.”

“We brought people together from diverse parts of the community,” he said.

Martine Meredith Collier, president and CEO of Culture Works — which has contributed funds to Cityfolk for decades — said she was surprised and sad to hear the news.

“An arts eco-system is like a system in nature,” she said. “There are all different sizes of organisms. When you lose any organism, no matter how large or small, it upsets the balance and the integrity of the entire system.”

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