Money in bank means big things

Published 12:20 am Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The 18th season of the Natchez Festival of Music is now officially over and what a season it was. Founding Artistic Director David Blackburn and his staff, artists and crew produced a superb collection of musical theater, opera and jazz, in over 50 public and private concerts. We saw many new faces and, of course, old friends at the variety of festival performances, events and locations.

This season benefited from furthering relationships with two important institutions, the Penn State University and the Richard Dreihaus Foundation. The board of directors also began several new initiatives.

Thanks to interns and professionals from Penn State School of Theater, each main stage event sparkled with a professional theatrical appearance including legitimate theater sets, props, lighting and stage operations. Next year, we hope to expand opportunities for learning stage design and technology to include some local people, with the proper talents, to work as interns with the Penn State crew. We also are starting conversations with the local school board about working within their carpentry classes to introduce students to set design and construction utilizing help from Penn State Interns.

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We have started a grant application committee which is already writing its first request to help fund our Educational Outreach program that last year touched over 17,000 elementary age students. Next year, we hope to expand this program to include older students, possibly to attend a special cover cast student performance at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center. Children are our future and the festival is committed to bring a variety of music and as much music as possible to the greater Mississippi and Louisiana areas.

Financially, this started out as a tough year, but that changed. For the last several years, the festival’s total budget has been about $300,000.

This year, when the festival began, we were significantly behind in donations compared to previous years. Each week, it became a monumental task to secure additional donations to pay the performers and other necessities such as electricity.

Well, at the end of a rainbow lies a pot of gold, and this year we found it. Just as we celebrated raising $30,000 last Friday to make the final week’s payroll, we were offered a new challenge by the Richard Dreihaus Foundation — raise another $30,000 by Monday and the foundation would match it. The festival had just raised that amount.

It was clear the entire board and community came together. Can you believe that it was possible to raise $60,000 in five days, and then get another $30,000 from a benefactor, like Dreihaus?

It happened, thanks to Natchez. Now, the Natchez Festival of Music will end its 18th season with all of its bills paid and enough money in the bank to begin planning not only next year but also for 2010, our 20th anniversary season.

We start this week with the board meeting to recap this just ended season and to get started on our plans for the future.

We thank each and every one who attended and enjoyed our multitude of performances this year. We thank the many of you who help fund this community festival. Without you, none of this would be possible.

Paris B. WINN is the board chairman for the Natchez Festival of Music.