A $100,000 handout from Coldwater Creek has revived the Festival at Sandpoint’s ailing budget and ensured a summer music series here.
The donation, along with one from The Spokesman-Review, will help erase the festival’s $120,000 deficit and give organizers some cash and clout to book performers for the summer.
“This is a relief. When I first came on, things were looking grim,” said Diane Ragsdale, the festival’s new executive director. “We had some serious conversations about whether we should go forward with trying to have a season. We couldn’t book artists because we didn’t have the money.”
Last year’s poorly marketed and attended concerts left the festival in the red. The organization owed money to local vendors, conductor Gunther Schuller and about $50,000 to the Spokane Symphony for two performances. The Spokesman-Review donation went directly to the symphony, and by the end of the year the festival will have settled all its debts, said president Dave Slaughter.
For its generosity, Coldwater will become an underwriter for the festival’s 1997 season. That means the successful mail-order catalog company will get top billing and the festival will have a slight name change. Printed programs at concerts will read: “Coldwater Creek presents the Festival at Sandpoint.”
“We want to make sure they are getting a little something - exposure - for their money,” Slaughter said. “We’re thrilled and working hard to assure the 1997 season is a successful one.”
This is the second time Coldwater has stepped in to rescue the festival. Last year it offered organizers $75,000 if it could match that amount in donations. The festival did.
One of the requirements from Coldwater this year was the festival hire a marketing director to avoid a repeat of last year’s dismal ticket sales. Ragsdale was originally tabbed as marketing director, but was named executive director when Ron Wasson resigned about two months ago. She will do both jobs to keep expenses in check.
The festival also cut back from three weekends of concerts to two, which will stretch from July 31 to Aug. 10.
“We have tried very hard to clean house and made major cuts in our budget,” Ragsdale said. “If we are going to ask people to invest in the festival, we have to make good artistic and business decisions to survive this season and have cash reserves to do better next year.”
The magic number needed this year to get out of debt and pull off a successful season is $250,000. Ragsdale hopes to raise the remaining $100,000 to $125,000 from other corporate sponsors. Without corporate support, the festival would have to rely on ticket sales, but that would boost ticket prices to nearly $45 apiece.
“We can’t do that because it wouldn’t be affordable for the people in the community,” she said. “We are looking at this realistically and have come up with survival plan because the festival is too important to let go away.”
It’s rare for a town the size of Sandpoint to have an event like the festival, which had a reputation for drawing big-name country, jazz and blues performers, Slaughter said. He hopes this summer will help the festival regain that status. The slate of artists is expected to be named in three weeks and will include a mix of musical genres, including the Spokane Symphony.
“We are excited about what we are doing,” Slaughter said, adding the community needs the festival for economic reasons and as a source of pride.