Published April 1, 2011

TWISler Update: Festival Steering Committee surrenders

Some of you long-time TWISler fans may remember one of our first Breakdowns back in January in which we tore apart the one-and-a-half-year-long-and-running colossally disastrous fiasco known as the Sarasota County Festival Steering Committee. We wanted to give the committee a fighting chance to make its case before offering an Update on the issue. But with their recent ill-received business plan presentations to the Tourist Development Council and the Sarasota County Commission, that time has now come. And it doesn’t look pretty.

The carnage began in mid-March when Committee Chair Robert Warren received a treacherous verbal beat-down from the 13 members of the TDC, who basically told Warren that the arts festival his committee had labored and toiled to develop for the past 16 months amounted to, as Obama would say, a turd sandwich. From claiming the committee had ignored major parts of its former-Canadian consultant’s report, which stated “The Festival of Firsts may help to retain or regain local audiences for the arts organizations but will do little in attracting new tourism to the area,” to pointing out the plan’s projected numbers appeared to be “plucked out of the air,” the TDC clearly stated it would not be picking up what Warren was laying down. Alas, a motion to give the committee one more month to clean up its mess was passed 11-2.

The bloodbath continued this past Tuesday, when County Commissioners expressed their disgust with the plan’s lack of detail and initially voted 3-2 to reject it. But with the committee’s recommendation that the festival be run as a start-up non-profit organization under the leadership of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the commissioners decided to keep the project alive by giving the Alliance two months to come up with something resembling a good idea.

The silver lining in this debacle can be found in comments made by Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who suggested dividing the money to support Sarasota’s numerous existing festivals, like the Chalk Festival, Sand Sculpturing Festival, Film Festival and Vinyl Festival, and finding a way to tie them all together, rather than starting a new one from scratch. Warren said that would be a welcome solution, and the TWISler agrees. We aren’t too thrilled, however, with keeping the proposed lame name of “Festival of Firsts”. Hell, if it’s basically a festival combining a bunch of different festivals, shouldn’t it be called the “Festivals of Fests”? Just an idea…

Either way, the idea of a “multi-discipline festival featuring world and regional premieres, lectures, exhibits and discussions and collaborations among arts groups” is still on the table as of now. Ironically, the whole “festival” concept originally popped up in the first place because Sarasota’s arts organizations thought it would be smarter to create one big event rather than hand out a bunch of individual arts grants, and now the current trajectory seems to be heading towards something very similar to the latter. The only difference is they want all the organizations that get funding to play together. Fair enough. But it kinda sucks that we had to spend 17 months and $50,000 in consulting fees to realize that the idea we voted down in the beginning was the best one we would have.

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