Dark economy could bring cuts to Fun Fest

Rain Smith • Feb 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The current economic climate could entail a scaling back of events at Kingsport's nearly three-decade-old summer tradition, Fun Fest.

Like most festivals and community events, the nine days of concerts, parades, contests and fellowship relies heavily on sponsorship. But those sponsors -- from banking corporations to local mom and pops -- are now more frugal with their budgets.

Lucy Fleming, director of Fun Fest, acknowledged some past events may not return in 2009. She declined to identify the activities, as the deadline for events applications is drawing near and nothing has been finalized.

Financial institutions that have been a staple of Fun Fest sponsorship are among the most affected by the economy. As of now, Fleming said, those sponsors are onboard for this year's Fun Fest, "But this market is so volatile it changes day to day."

CLICK THE BOX BELOW for a video report on how Fun Fest 2009 is shaping up.

Fleming hopes businesses that are more resistant to economic downturns -- primarily health care and senior services -- will step in to pick up some of the slack for traditional sponsors that may not be able to participate.

Organizers are also looking at more "creative" ways for sponsors to remain involved in the festival, Fleming said.

"More bang for their buck, or a different bang for their buck; or just lets try something different this year," Fleming said.

Fun Fest organizers are certainly not alone in their approach to doing business a bit differently. This week the Wall Street Journal reported festivals across the country are being downsized or canceled due to a lack of money from community groups, local government and corporate sponsors.

Currently the duration of Fun Fest, scheduled for July 10-18, looks like it will remain intact.

"We're planning on a nine-day festival this year," Fleming said. "And honestly, each year we lose some events, and sometimes we have events that we know is only going to be here a year."

This past week Fleming attended the Southeast Festival and Events Conference in Knoxville. She said rounding up dollars in tough economic times was a focal point of the various organizers.

"In many cases they are feeling the pinch of losing a sponsor here or there -- that's normal operating procedure for operating a festival. In some cases they're scaling back.

"They may cut back a little bit on their talent budget, they may not have a certain activity going on. But everyone is, shall we say, cautiously holding their breath to make sure we do have events this year. Everyone knows how much festivals and events bring to a community; the value of the tourism dollars, and the value of the commodity within the community."

Ironically, while sponsors may be cutting back on spending, Fun Fest organizers hope those same concerns among families will boost attendance. They hypothesize that rather than traveling to the beach for a vacation, some across the region may opt for a week at Fun Fest, instead.

The Kingsport Visitors and Convention Bureau is marketing Fun Fest 2009 to a 100-mile radius around Kingsport, hoping to pull more visitors from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina.

Though tight-lipped on specifics, Fleming said people should look forward to coming announcements on Fun Fest activities and talent, "Because we've got some really good ones."

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