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May 16, 2005


Until 2004, Richmond had an active Festivals Committee and City financing of three city-sponsored festivals: Festival by the Bay, Cinco de Mayo and Juneteenth. Festival by the Bay was at Marina Bay, and the other two were traditionally at the Barrett Avenue Civic Center Plaza. Attendance was mostly local.

The format for all three was similar: entertainment, food vendors, tables for non-profit organizations and public agencies to disseminate information and displays such as fire department and Army recruitment. City staff took the lead in providing the logistics, with the Festivals Committee and volunteers helping with planning and execution.

Although the City had a budget, it went principally for out of pocket expenses like music. Much of the cost was absorbed into the budgets of various City departments like Police and Parks and Recreation.

With budget crunches, City sponsorship and funding evaporated. There was no Festival by the Bay in 2004 or City-sponsored Cinco de Mayo. Juneteenth survived only when an alternate sponsor emerged (See TOM BUTT E-FORUM June 19, 2004, Juneteenth Survives Budget Cuts.  

An alternate and spontaneous Cinco de Mayo event that had previously floated in both date and location around 23rd Street gained traction. In 2002, Police closed down the 23rd Street Cinco de Mayo event, and the fallout of allegations of improper police behavior are still causing legal problems and expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for the City of Richmond three years later. The same event took place in 2003 and 2004 with fewer problems, but this year there was again an outbreak of fights and vandalism that resulted in another shutdown by police. The Richmond Police after action report cited $42,765 in police overtime and logistical costs of $6,350.

Although the City of Richmond bowed out of Juneteenth sponsorship, the same organization that largely paid for the 2003 event in Nicholl Park, the National Brotherhood Alliance, is planning a 2005 event in the same place but is protesting that the City is now meddling and scaring away potential vendors, some of them non-profits, by making them purchase temporary Richmond business licenses.

Despite these challenges, there remains a high level of interest in these festivals, and people are looking to the City to provide some leadership. As Richmond’s population continues to diversify and interest in history, the arts and community activities grows, additional festivals with wide public support may emerge.

After gathering input from a number of people, I suggest the following:

  1. The City should get out of the festival operating business. Instead, the City should recognize or create a non-profit for each festival and “franchise” or “license” an organization to run each festival. Each non-profit should include a wide range of community participation, with the proviso that anyone who joins the effort must contribute significantly with time or money.
  2. All events would be “sanctioned” in the sense that they are recognized and permitted by the City and with as much community buy-in and participation as possible. For example, every effort should be made to turn the formerly spontaneous Cinco de Mayo event into a recognized and organized community event for families with involvement of businesses, churches and community organizations.
  3. Funding would be raised by the sponsoring organization from businesses, ticket sales, raffles, rental of booth space, etc. All City business licenses would be waived, and City venues would be used free of charge.
  4. City participation would be limited to police, as required, and the use of some City equipment, such as the portable stage.
  5. Examples of outdoor festivals already successfully established by non-profits include the Point Richmond Summer Music Festival and the Point Richmond Stroll. I am soliciting examples of other that we can add to the list. Please email me with suggestions.
  6. The next festival formerly under City operation is Juneteenth., which is officially on June 19, but will be celebrated in Richmond this year on Saturday, June 18. A nonprofit organization called the National Brotherhood Alliance (NBA), with a board made up of local business and community leaders, has committed to fund and operate the festival at no cost to the City. The NBA is the same organization that funded Juneteenth last year. At tomorrow night’s City Council meeting, I am prepared to move the following:

·         That National Brotherhood Alliance be recognized as the official Juneteenth sponsor.

·         That Nicholl Park be provided free of charge, provided NBA cleans up afterward

·         That NBA be allowed to use the City’s vendor booths free of charge, provided they pick them up and deliver them back to storage.

·         That NBA be provided a blanket business license exemption for any vendor

·         under RMC 7.04.140, and that NBA may charge vendors at its sole discretion with any fees being applied to the overall costs of the festival

·         That NBA be allowed to have a parade if it wishes along Macdonald Avenue from Harbour Way or points east to Nicholl Park.

  1. Festival by the Bay should become a festival with regional or greater interest by ceasing to be local and generic and adopting a theme that recognizes Rosie the Riveter World War II/Homefront National Historical Park.
  2. In the end, these festivals can all become money makers that actually put money back into the community to fund community organizations, services, education and scholarships.

A new way of funding and organizing festivals can point the way to a new way of handling lots of things that were formerly organized by City employees and paid for largely by the City of Richmond General Fund. In the long run, these vents will be more successful because they will be “owned” by the community, operated by volunteers, and supported by local businesses.