ArtsSoup request gets some support

by Jim Boyle

The Elk River Economic Development Authority (EDA), which has contributed to the Elk River Area Arts Alliance’s ArtSoup community arts festival in the past, found it difficult Monday to deal with a request for $2,000 for this year’s event.

It decided against a straight up contribution and went with a plan to give up to $1,000 to sponsor ArtSoup and work with the Arts Alliance to promote its Powered by Nature branding effort.

The money, which was not budgeted, will come from the EDA’s branding implementation budget.

Based on the motion made by EDA member Nick Zerwas,  if staff members think it is worthwhile, they can choose to have a booth at ArtSoup similar to one they had at the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Business and Energy Expo.

This year’s event marks the first time the alliance has decided to make the event an annual one since it started hosting it as a biennial event in 1999.

“We believe this festival is especially important during this economic downturn, which has adversely effected all of our constituencies: downtown businesses, artists, and our clients who are staying closer to home,” stated David Raymond in an April 13 written request for a $2,000 grant.

The decision to go annual came after last year’s event when many requests from the local business community, the chamber, city officials, local artists and members of the community asked for it to become an annual one. The request for funds from the EDA, however, did not come until after its budgeting was done and now there is only about a month to go before the event.

“It sort of hits us as a surprise,” said Dan Tveite, the chairman of the EDA.

Clay Wilfahrt, an assistant director of economic development, said providing a contribution requires a re-allocation of funds. Wilfahrt said staff’s recommendation is to have a conversation about the request during its next budgeting process.

ArtSoup is the largest of 20 annual events and more than 100 art classes that bring about 9,500 people into downtown Elk River.

“We believe our programs and services keep our community strong and vibrant,” Raymond said.

The festival, which is free to attend, has a budget of about $20,000, about two-thirds of which goes back into the Elk River community. The Arts Alliance relies on the support of local people, local businesses and the Central Minnesota Arts Board. Other decisions the alliance has made include using only local vendors and as many local organizations as possible, as well as local arts and cultural organizations and local artists and performance groups.

Wilfahrt said it comes down to the EDA’s comfort in tying economic benefit to the event and its willingness to shift funds.

EDA member Paul Motin, who has been against contributing to ArtSoup in the past, raised several concerns.

He said he questions the economic benefit to downtown, and suggested the businesses that benefit the most should be the ones called upon to pay for the benefit of a busy event.

Motin said other efforts have and will bring as many people downtown, like the farmers market and the concert series that the city partners to make possible.

Some EDA members noted that there are in-kind contributions being made with the waiving of fees and services possibly being provided.

EDA member Jerry Gumphrey was less concerned about the timing of the request and the fact that it wasn’t budgeted. He also clarified that the in-kind contributions were not from the EDA.

“This is an excellent opportunity to bring people downtown,” Gumphrey said. “That’s what this commission is all about.”

He made a motion to contribute $2,000. It died for lack of a second.

Bryan Provo, the newest EDA member, helped fashion the eventual winning resolution. He suggested a variety of different approaches that demonstrated support but not to the tune of $2,000.

His suggestions ranged from adding to the amount of in-kind contributions to bring the level of support up to $2,000 or agreeing to contribute $1,000 annually rather than $2,000 every other year. Another suggestion he had was to tie a contribution to the branding effort and make  the Arts Alliance tie it into the Powered by Nature effort.

“We could use the money as advertising rather than giving it away,” he said.

Zerwas liked that idea.

“I would be amenable to being a participant sponsor, … instead of here’s a check,” he said.

Raymond said the EDA could have a booth in the community tent and that he didn’t see a problem using the city’s logo for a donation.

The motion to do this was approved unanimously.