Organizers await the final tally for Columbia festival

Ticket revenue almost as much as last year's

July 02, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Despite cutting the number of performers nearly in half, the 15th Columbia Festival of the Arts, which closed Sunday, made almost as much money in ticket sales as last year. But whether the festival got out of debt or dug itself in deeper remains to be seen.

"The final tally is not in yet," said Alton J. Scavo, a Rouse Co. executive who is president of the festival's board of directors. "We budgeted to pay off our debt, and if all went well ... that's what we did. But I need to see the credits and debits to tell."

A goal of this year's festival was to get rid of a $50,000 debt that accrued during the past two years. To help do that, organizers booked 13 performers, compared with 24 last year.

Scavo said the bulk of the festival's budget - $900,000 this year, down from $1.2 million last year - always goes toward paying artists, who this year included Bobby McFerrin and the juggling Karamazov Brothers (both shows sold out). By cutting back, organizers hoped to end up in the black.

Although it will be another couple of weeks before organizers can work out the numbers, preliminary figures look good. Nearly 4,000 tickets were sold during the two-week event - which featured concerts, plays and dance recitals - for a total of $120,000, said Lee Hanna, the festival's box office manager. Last year, 4,125 tickets were sold, which brought in $131,000.

The festival took an attendance hit on its opening day, however.

Gone this year were the free, multiday lakefront activities, which drew about 23,000 people in 2000 - the year in which attendance was highest. They were replaced by a one-day opening celebration, which featured the Army Band, family activities and crafts. That drew 4,590 people, according to Merriweather Post Pavilion, where the celebration was held.

"It was one day as opposed to three days, and Merriweather is not as inviting to just come and linger for a while as the lakefront is," Hanna said. "It's really comparing apples and oranges."

Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director, said she is optimistic about this year's final numbers and expects the debt to be retired. But her main focus during the festival was trouble-shooting.

A Canadian actor missed his flight from Montreal, missed his connection in New York, and gave the name of the wrong airport when arranging a ride. (His show, The Little Prince, was postponed.) And at baggage claim, a musician found a duffel bag full of somebody else's clothes instead of the bass he had checked. The bass, he found out later, had been sent to Prague, Czechoslovakia.

"It's kind of like riding a roller-coaster," Knowles said. "You just roll with it."

Scavo says they will roll with the financial outcome, as well.

"It's not about making money - we're a not-for-profit," he said. "We're there for the pleasure of the community. ... That's the charge in life. If we break out even, that's a terrific result. If we make a dollar or two, that's a really terrific result and means we can start out ahead next year."

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