The Great Recession and Us

My little museum puts on an awesome and long-running annual festival. We charge $5 for adults to get in, and kids under 8 are free. There’s food, demonstrators, ethnic dances, etc. It’s absolutely one-of-a-kind in our region.

Cost: $14,000 (even after massive cost-cutting). Our annual budget: $50,000.

So you can imagine what a huge success this shindig needs to be. It’s by far our biggest fundraiser of the year. When it gets rained out (a lot), we’re in big trouble. And you know what? Nobody cares. Everyone flocks in, has their fun, and bickers about the meager price we charge for admission. People think these performers and demonstrators come here as part of their religion or something, but THEY DON’T. They come for EXORBITANT FEES, because they’re SUPPLYING us with something that is in heavy DEMAND.

Anyone who’s ever tried to put on an event with a skeleton staff will understand how difficult it is to organize something like this, especially with the 5-8 person staff we have. Often-unreliable volunteers need to be called, dragged out of bed the morning of the event, fed, and generally kept perky. Food needs to be purchased, prepared, and cooked. Health inspectors need to be appeased. Permits need to be requisitioned and paid for. Contracts need to be signed, performers and vendors shepherded to their little areas, tents erected and then taken down, dishes scrubbed, and garbage collected. Parking needs to be orderly, or at least not chaotic. Port-o-Potties need to be paid for ($800!!!), the gate attended, cash locked away, and fire extinguishers strategically placed. Sound systems need to be paid for and then set up. Grass needs to be mowed and security hired.

And that’s only for the event itself. Before, you have to design and distribute fliers, update websites and guidebooks, get the press interested, etc. And, of course, if you’re an intrepid soul, grants need to be written, which introduces a whole slew of other obligations. If you’re lucky enough to have a corporate sponsor, they need to be consulted and buttered-up.


We used to have two festivals like this, but after the recession of 2008 hit, we had to cut one to keep the other running. You should have heard the outcry. Oh, the angry phone calls we got. How dare we cancel a festival the caller had absolutely never had to organize, never mind pay for? Half our membership dropped out (most had been delinquent on dues anyway) and we’re still dealing with bad vibes from it all.

Listen, festival-goers out there: The economy’s bad and you’re cutting back. You’re not paying for tours or stuff out of our gift shop of memberships as much. That’s fine. It’s tough for everyone. But here’s an economics lesson: If you’re cutting back on your spending, the organizations you’re not buying from have to cut back, too. It’s the trickle-down economy, mmmm-kay? And “cultural” industries like non-profits aren’t exactly an elastic sector.

We’re hurting, too. So be understanding. And stop calling us.



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