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Wed., April 21, 2010

Editorial: Selflessness, frugal ways preserve Lilac Festival

The Spokane Lilac Festival has been an uplifting presence in the Inland Northwest for more than 70 years. Participants ritually flocked here from three states, securing the interdependence between Spokane and surrounding communities.

But for much of the past decade the outlook for sustaining the festival’s vitality much longer was generally bleak. Periodic economic woes had touched off a cascade of consequences that took the bloom off the community’s cherished spring celebration.

Was the Lilac Festival truly close to expiring?

It was, according to festival president Arne Weinman, a Spokane contractor and one-time commander of the 92nd Bombardment Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base.

Unlike events such as Hoopfest and Bloomsday, the Lilac Festival can’t effectively collect entry fees. At the same time a ragged economy was making corporate sponsorships harder to come by – and substantially more modest – costs for such expenses as liability insurance were soaring. Other community organizations were feeling the pinch, too, and cutting back their support.

When Spokane Public Schools stopped paying stipends to the teachers who coordinated coronation ceremonies, the festival trimmed its court from 13 down to seven.

A healthy dose of business principles, backed up by a decades-long accumulation of community loyalty, have enabled the festival to turn the corner, says Weinman.

That and an impressive demonstration of selflessness by those who have day-to-day responsibility for the $250,000-a-year operation, all on a payroll of … zero. Nobody draws a salary.

That combination of sleeves-up civic dedication and businesslike operating practices should ease the anxiety of Lilac Festival enthusiasts who are drawn to Spokane each May from throughout the region.

When parade watchers line up along the route and twilight settles on the torchlight spectacle, their minds are not going to be on budget balances. Most of them will be too focused on fresh-faced princesses and festive floats to fret about such things.

And that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

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