By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – St. Jean Baptiste Festival Chair Paul Smith brought his concept for as more self-sufficient summer festival to Morinville Town Council Nov. 8. That vision for the festival is an event that would support itself year after year.
Smith told council the success of last year’s event has made his job easier in that all the major events and vendors from last year are eager to return in 2012. “People were happy with the festival and it was easy to get a commitment for people to return,” Smith told council.
But while the vendors and major events will be the same in 2012, the venue will change. Smith said he and his committee are planning to move the festival from the St. Jean Baptiste Park and Parish Hall area to the Ray McDonald Sports Centre. “We’re wanting to consolidate everything into one area,” Smith said, noting the popular firefighters’ challenge would move to the outdoor arena, and that the parking lot would be used for the midway and the outdoor entertainment stage. The festival chair said the arena and curling rink venue would provide suitable accommodations should the weekend be hit with bad weather, something that plagued last year’s Fête au Village in Legal.
The westward move up 100 Avenue is not a new concept. “I understand there was no pioneering in the thought of that because that is where Pioneer Days were,” Smith said, referencing the precursor to the St. Jean Baptiste Festival.
Looking for succession and success
Smith said one of the challenges of the annual event is to find a successor as festival chair. “This is a hard job for someone to do for more than one year,” he said, noting there is some financial risk involved as he has to sign personal guarantees to bring in some of the attractions. One example is signing a personal guarantee the midway will make a minimum of $10,000.
The festival chair said much of the liability and risk of the $250,000 festival has been assumed in past years by private citizens and businesses, people who backed festival concerts and events with their own money, assuming both the risk of loss and the opportunity for gain.
“What I want to do is create a festival that uses no tax dollars, is sustainable, and makes a profit,” Smith said, noting he wants to see it profitable for businesses who buy into supporting it and yet affordable for families who attend it. In past years the Town of Morinville has contributed $17,500 to the festival. This year, however, the festival is hoping to get the Town to up that contribution to $40,000, seed money Smith and his committee will use to get the ball rolling to future success.
Smith laid out a scenario for council whereby the $40,000 would be used to fund a profitable festival, the profits going back into the festival in subsequent years. “That would be the conscious intent of this committee – take the one time seed money and make it work,” Smith said, noting he sees the transition towards self -sufficient status as taking between one and three years.
Council unsure of idea
For Councillor Nicole Boutestein there was a concern a successor’s vision may be different than the current chair’s vision. “They may not have the same vision and that $40,000 is a lot of money,” she said.
Traditionally the festival has a succession whereby there is a two-year commitment as volunteers move from vice chair to chair. Smith has been involved with the festival for three years, the first as entertainment coordinator.
Councillor Gordon Boddez said he’d like to see some kind of evaluation of the annual festival that shows the benefits to the community. “If we’re giving $40,000, what are the benefits to the community,” Boddez asked. “More and more we want to see value for the money we put into these things. I have a belief that that is the case.”
Smith told council the 2011 festival drew between 4,500 and 5,000 people to the event, some from within and others from outside the community.
Councillor Lisa Holmes said it would be hard for council to approve the funding request without seeing a concrete budget for the festival. The councillor also stated she did not think a private person should be financially responsible for a community event.
St. Jean Baptiste Festival 2012 is scheduled to take place June 22-24, 2012.