Folk Festival Cancelled According to Event’s Director
The Great Lake Folks Festival, held annually in downtown East Lansing since 2002, will not happen this summer according to Festival Director Marsha MacDowell.
According to MacDowell, MSU Museum Director Mark Auslander has decided to “put the festival on pause and to reimagine a festival for 2019,” and that his reasoning for the “pause” was “that it was too much energy for the MSU Museum.” The MSU Museum has been the lead organization for the annual event.
The decision, MacDowell says, will effectively kill the festival as it has existed.
“We’ve directed these festivals for years,” she told ELi when reached by phone late this afternoon, “and if you put it on pause, you are actually ending it.” This, she says, is partly because it takes well over a year of planning to get grants and performers in place for a festival of this type.
Auslander could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could Mayor Mark Meadows, City Manager George Lahanas, or Director of Parks and Recreation Tim McCaffrey.
While City leaders have been discussing whether to cut funding to festivals in the future as part of the response to the looming budget crisis, there had been no public indication that the City would cut its support to festivals this year.
MacDowell says that this year’s Great Lake Folk Festival (GLFF) already had financial support lined up from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. The City of East Lansing had also committed funds for this year. “We had the budget,” she tells ELi, “and we had pretty much all of the programming planned. So, it was a surprise to us.”
According to a recent list of possible budget cuts provided by the City Manager, “The City provides $15,000 in cash support and an estimated $18,200 in [Department of Public Works] overtime staffing and a contractual electrician to support the GLFF. ELPD spent $1,886 in overtime costs to provide dedicated patrols for the event.”
The Festival has traditionally been held in the downtown location now affected by construction for the Center City District project, and so the plan was to move it to the Bailey parking lot, behind The Peanut Barrel. MacDowell says that the Broad Museum had already donated use of the annex space planned for the new building at 565 East Grand River Avenue, and that Scene MetroSpace, the public performance space owned by the City and managed by MSU, had also allocated space.
“It was going to be a difficult year because of logistically planning new spaces and sound arrangements and tent locations,” she said, “but that was all being ironed out. It was doable.”
MacDowell and her husband, Kurt Dewhurst, Founding Directors of the Great Lakes Folk Festival, issued a statement this evening expressing appreciation for those who have partnered and assisted with the event over the years. They wrote, “it was a means of connecting underserved communities with the majority arts organizations and a wonderful bridge between the university and COEL” (the City of East Lansing).
In our phone interview, MacDowell named the community-wide engagement associated with the festival as one of the benefits to the town-gown relationship. She talked about Community Sing, the ukulele festival, and the “instrument jam” at the Festival, where people could bring their own instruments to play together.
“I am an East Lansing resident,” MacDowell said, “and I know this is a fiscally difficult time, but I do hate to lose this event that I think makes East Lansing the kind of place people want to live in, play in, work in.” She says the Folk Festival was a way of “bringing the Museum in a very creative way into the community.”
Follow-up story: Museum Director Explains Folk Festival "Hiatus"
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