When the World Equestrian Games came to town, lots of powerful people promised they’d be a success.
They said Lexington would make money even though the preceding host cities hadn’t. Some even claimed that once the entire world arrived in the Bluegrass, they’d realize how awesome it is and would pour money into our economy not just for the WEG fortnight but in real investments in our sedentary future.
Late last month, our dinosaur-loving Governor touted a study claiming the Games brought in $201.5 million. Trouble was, the city and state had poured in $258 million just to get ready for the games, and the total losses may never be known because “detailed financial reports on the Games kept by the World Games 2010 Foundation have not been made public.”
So the WEG were a bit of a disaster — or, let’s compromise: a money losing venture.
One of the highlights of the Games, one of the events they by most accounts got right, was the Spotlight Lexington music festival which featured free concerts filling the streets of Downtown Lexington each night of the WEG. An estimated 175,000 people came out during that two week party.
So, as Rich Copley reported yesterday, the event was “seen as one of the legacy projects from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.”
But that legacy has gone the way of the taxpayer money that funded the Games. The 2011 Spotlight festival has been cancelled.
Over $280,000 was raised for the 2011 concert series but the organizing committee said it needed at least $400,000 to make it happen.
As Copley reported:
It was particularly disappointing, [Festival chair Kip Cornett] said, because there was a lot of talk about creating legacy events and projects from the World Equestrian Games, and Spotlight seemed poised to be one of them….
“The most satisfaction I got out of the Spotlight festival was that we proved we could do these sorts of things,” Cornett said. “We proved that if we pooled our resources and checkbooks, we can do some neat things like the Austins and Cincinnatis and Louisvilles out there.”
It would be nice to do something neat.
Like, oh, here’s something neat: BOOMSLANG.
The Boomslang music festival started in 2009, one year before about $56.5 million was lost during the WEG. Here’s what Walter Tunis had to say way back when:
Sitting on the patio of a Knoxville restaurant last winter, Saraya Brewer took notice of what was unfolding around her. The streets were alive with something called Big Ears, a festival that championed concerts by new and veteran underground acts, performance works and interactive exhibits.
Then the idea clicked.
Something like this could happen in Lexington, she thought. As a WRFL-88.1 FM disc jockey for more than five years, she was tapped into the sort of music she wanted to bring in, not to mention a source of funding. Big Ears, in turn, triggered ideas for using multiple performance venues and bills that mixed prominent (although decidedly non-mainstream) artists with local performers.
And to top it all off, there would room for a carnival.
Boomslang was born.
And Boomslang rocked.
So Boomslang happened again, in 2010. Here’s what Walter Tunis wrote just last year:
Probably the biggest difference between the first and second Boomslangs will be the spot on the calendar. Last year, the event fell in early October. The upcoming Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games prompted a rescheduling, at least for this year, to September.
“My first instinct was to do it in October anyway, so we could have an international crowd. But we realized it would be a logistical nightmare with the hotels and stuff.”
Probably the most encouraging aspect of Boomslang II is how well it has set itself up for Boomslang III. Brewer said the festival received grants from several outside arts organizations, including the Kentucky Arts Council and LexArts. She described the financial support as “modest,” but she said that Boomslang’s eligibility for greater aid will increase next year.
Curiously, it was while she was completing applications for those grants that the worthiness of Boomslang’s entire mission was reaffirmed to Brewer.
“Applying for the grants really helped us focus our mission very specifically,” she said. “When we got it all on paper, it helped us realize, ‘Hey, this event really could grow into something that’s great for our community.’“
Not just neat. But great.
Maybe you see the point already.
Spotlight Lexington, a supposed legacy event of the failed 2010 WEG, is all but folded up.
Boomslang is funded by grants and local funding.
Spotlight gathered $240,000 from corporate sponsors and couldn’t figure out what to do with itself.
As one local musician pointed out to me last night, for $240,000 every single band in Lexington across all genres could have been hired to play music to crowds of people in downtown Lexington.
But as the Spotlight folks told Copley:
Had they presented the festival this year, Cornett said, his fear was it would have been a disappointment and faded away in subsequent years.
If Lexington really wanted to do something neat, it already had the money pledged to do it.
Furthermore, something neat is already happening here… a music / fashion / art / carnival and festival that started with a little idea and is now blossoming into its third year.
The Herald-Leader had a big photo accompanying its story yesterday on the decline and fall of Spotlight, just the latest legacy failure of the WEG, showing throngs in front of a giant stage festooned with the logos of Applebees and Pfizer.
Yet somehow, Boomslang marches on with no such support, with no such funds.
Perhaps Spotlight could have reoriented their resources. Or, perhaps the chances of Lexington doing something neat like Austin is left in the hands of people who have the will to find a way. Who don’t have $240,000 at their disposal, but instead just fill their wallets with passion.
The South by Southwest Festival that made Austin famous was first organized in 1987 by three people. It drew 700 attendees. It’s grown into an annual ten day music-film-interactive festival drawing class acts across the spectrum and 20,000 paying customers.
The Sundance Film Festival launched in 1978, the brainchild of three locals who enlisted a willing governor. By 2010, the festival has become an industry event, and its admitted films accounted for 15 Academy Award nominations.
I could go on but, yes, you see the point.
Boomslang’s happening. Spotlight isn’t. That $240,000 could have gone a long way. Even half of it.
And it still could.
Even a quarter of it.
Or an eighth.
There’s still time to do something neat. Like Austin. Like Sundance. Like Louisville.