Festival finances successful

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 6, 2010

NATCHEZ — Between the bliss of a 20th anniversary celebration and the burden of the loss of sponsors, organizers of the Natchez Festival of Music weren’t sure what to expect this year.

“We were scared to death,” Board of Directors Secretary Charlotte Copeland said of the nonprofit’s financial troubles.

Funding for the annual May festival comes from a combination of ticket sales, ads, corporate sponsors, fundraisers, individual donations and grants, according to the festival Web site. This year, the program received a $12,000 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission, Copeland said.

But the board’s worries were stifled when donations continued to pour in even after the month-long festival had begun, and performances hit high notes by drawing in large crowds.

By the end of May, the festival was a huge success, Copeland said.

In addition to the generosity of local individuals who offered donations and home-cooked meals for the visiting performers, she said the festival went smoothly because the artists seemed especially enthusiastic during their performances. And the closing opera performance, “La Boheme,” attracted record audience numbers.

The organization suffered an 8 percent budget cut compared to the 2009 budget, which was already 30 percent less than it was in 2008. This was mostly due to the withdrawal of support from some often-reliable corporate sponsors, probably due to the recent recession, Copeland said.

Artistic Director George Hogan said one of the biggest sponsors, Alcorn State University, was unable to provide nearly as much funding as they have in the past due to severe budget cuts in education, as well

Despite cuts to the program, however, ticket sales reached similar numbers as last year’s sales. In addition, ticket sales to the festival’s gala were up approximately 30 percent this year over the numbers in 2008, despite the economic downturn.

Many of the 2010 performances allowed standing room only, due to impressive turnouts, Hogan said.

Copeland said it was uncertain at first whether or not the festival — now a long-standing Natchez tradition — would be able to continue next year due to financial struggles. But this year’s come-from-behind success has secured a spot for it to continue in 2011. And Hogan said he is working on a lot of plans to keep the festival in Natchez for years to come, but those plans are not yet set in stone.

“I have some exciting plans to make us more self-sufficient,” he said.

Copeland said Hogan deserves credit for the festival’s success.

He took his post as last year as director of the opera, Broadway and jazz festival after the 2008 death of founding director David Blackburn.