ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s difficult to imagine summer in Ithaca not being welcomed without Ithaca Festival and the quirky parade that kicks it all off. For over 40 years, the festival has brought the community together to celebrate local artists, musicians, and performers — and to just celebrate, really. There is a real possibility, however, that 2019 will not have an Ithaca Festival if organizers don’t raise enough money in the next few weeks to keep it going.

The board members and organizers behind Ithaca Festival have an urgent plea for the community: help save the festival. They need to raise $30,000 by the end of the year and as of Dec. 7, they’ve raised about $2,800.

If they don’t raise the funds, board member Nick Frazier said, the festival will not happen in 2019.

As difficult a time as it is right now, festival director Josh Dolan said he is excited about the future because of the fresh dedicated board they have. He said the members are all involved in different aspects of the arts community and will bring a wealth of creativity and knowledge to future festivals.

“Let’s keep our fingers crossed and everybody pitch in,” Dolan said. “It’s going to be a great festival next year.”

The first Ithaca Festival took place in 1977 as an arts festival called, “Celebration Ithaca” and since then has always stayed true to its mission to “celebrate the artist in everyone.” Every June, the festival draws an estimated 42,000 visitors to see over 80 performances, enjoy food from local vendors, browse art and handmade items on the street and take part in activities all weekend.

The festival has always featured a unique theme. This year’s theme was “Arts! Agriculture! Adventure!” and highlighted the people behind Ithaca’s vibrant food scene with a Farmer & Foodie busking area on the Ithaca Commons.

Ithaca Festival is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a board of directors and a full-time executive director. The festival is self-sustaining and does not receive financial support from the City of Ithaca. On average, the operating budget is around $130,000, Drew Noden, board director said. It does get some funding through tourism grants recommended by the county’s strategic tourism planning board. For example, last year it received grants totaling about $13,000 for its “After Dark” activities. But the majority of the festival’s funding comes from the sale of t-shirts and buttons, sponsorships, and the sale of vending real estate.

Ithaca Festival revenue and expenses. (Provided by board director Drew Noden)

In recent years, merchandise sales have decreased by 80 percent, while costs for many essential services have increased.

While the board is working on ways to increase revenue, they are hoping if the community loves the festival, they will step in to keep it going.

“I know that the community goodwill is there,” Noden said.

Despite the current situation, board members are remaining positive. “There’s no other way to approach something like this,” said Frazier.

Ithaca Festival and Grassroots inspired Frazier to start his own music festival, Finger Lakes Thaw, a two-day multi-venue music festival in Ithaca that debuted in March.

“I think that the groundwork for creating a community arts space was laid by Ithaca Festival many, many years before I was born, let alone lived here,” Frazier said. “All these things helped foster the attitude in Ithaca that makes it possible to try to do something entrepreneurial within the music space which is hard in a big city and even harder in a town of 30,000, and somehow I found a way to do it. And I don’t credit myself with that. I credit things like the Ithaca Festival with that. I credit things like Grassroots with that and all the musicians who have worked their asses off in this community.”

Another board member, Allison DeDominick who freelances and teaches in the visual arts field, said Ithaca is known for art and music.

“When you say Ithaca to people outside of Ithaca, they’ll say to me, there’s a lot of great music there, there’s a lot of great art there,” DeDominick said. “And the Ithaca Festival is something, maybe to the top, thing that has developed that idea.”

With this plea for funding, Frazier said he hopes the community will take ownership of the festival and help save it. “This is the time for Ithacans to speak. Is this the community that they want to continue to have? Or is it not important to them anymore?”

People interested in donating can visit their GoFundMe Page. Dolan said they are in the process of reaching out to sponsors. He said anyone interested in sponsoring can reach out to him directly at director@ithacafestival.org.

Featured image: File photo by Ed Dittenhoefer

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.