A cry for help

The 11th annual Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival started with a pub crawl and ended with a plea.

On Sept. 5, three days after the one-night, one-day festival closed, festival producer Arts2People posted a message on Facebook asking for money. The note thanked everyone for supporting LAAFF before broaching financial problems.

“I have to tell you that this has been a rough year for the festival and we are in dire need of help from all of you,” read the post.

“As the event grows and we look at ways to try to make the event profitable for all involved, we are forced to take many risks. This year’s list of risks did not pay off and we are in a position that might mean we won’t be able to continue to have this event… . If all of our fans donated $5, we could save LAAFF and Arts2People.”

Jen Gordon, the post’s author and the executive director of Arts2People, added that the post was a “cry for help.”

The money will “go towards covering the remaining expenses of the festival,” Gordon tells Xpress. These expenses include rental fees for generators, money for the electrical contractor to ground and activate the generators and to pay Arts2People staff.

As of Sept. 9, $2,500 of the $10,000 to $12,000 goal had been raised, Gordon says.

LAAFF’s financial support is generated through the sale of beer, merchandise and wristbands; vendor stalls; raffles; and general sponsorship from area businesses. The budget is based on projections — estimates of vendor occupancy, attendance and beer sales. A small portion of the funding is secured a few days prior to LAAFF, while the bulk is earned during the event.

The “risks” stem from the decision to pay all 68 of this year’s participating performers, Gordon SAYS. That expense came to almost $13,000. “In 10 years, we had never been able to do that; musicians have always donated their time,” says Gordon. “The exposure is really good for the bands, but the mission for Arts2People is to pay the artists.”

Payment for the performers was to be subsidized by the Pre-LAAFF-a-thon Pub Crawl alongside business sponsorships. But the pub crawl flopped and was met by low sponsorship turnout. Gordon projected the crawl would raise upward of $10,000. It raised $3,500.

The festival’s expansion to Rankin Avenue was also unpopular. The city told LAAFF that the festival had become too crowded, Gordon says. During the permitting process, several city agencies, including the fire and police departments, noted that the festival was too large for Lexington Avenue, according to Gordon. LAAFF had to expand in an effort to thin the crowds (estimated around 30,000) and reduce structural congestion.

The expanded footprint was a risk that may not have paid off. Based on feedback, namely from vendors, Gordon says the “expansion was harmful.” Many vendors felt they had been shorted the prime Lexington Avenue retail real estate that is the heart of the festival. “We still had to pay the same fee as the Lexington vendors,” said photographer Carter Mitchell, who ended up sharing a booth to cut losses.

The extra space also had to be outfitted with a stage and power.

Still, there is hope on the horizon. “It’s a pivotal time for Arts2People,” says Gordon. “Matt Logan and Kristie Quinn of 5 Walnut [Wine Bar] have generously offered to partner with Arts2People to provide us with office space in their new project [on Riverside Drive].” The group has only held temporary office spaces in the past, including a location at the YMI on Market Street.

Arts2People and LAAFF are also aiming to secure a co-sponsorship from the city when they re-evaluate their current partnerships this fall. “City co-sponsorship would have a significant impact on this event’s continuity and sustainability,” Gordon says. Such a partnership means that parking spaces don’t have to be rented, power and police security are provided, signs are posted and blockades are put up and taken down — all by the city. Gordon believes LAAFF is a true anchor event for Asheville. It’s on the season’s last major holiday, it’s in the heart of the city and it brings tens of thousands of tourists and locals to downtown, she says. 

“The model for LAAFF is one that celebrates local culture,” Gordon says. And, “It continues to revitalize Lexington Avenue.” Donations can be made online, via mail or in person at Hip Replacements at 72 N. Lexington Ave.

— Kyle Sherard writes about the visual arts for Mountain Xpress and can be reached at kyle.sherard@gmail.com

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