Scott Feehan, Festival International director, sends letter to Festival supporters on Facebook via Sunday:
To our Festival supporters,
I hope you and your loved ones are all doing well during this crazy time. You are receiving this update because you supported us in the past two years – either as a volunteer or a financial supporter. Know that we could not do anything that we do without your support and we are working hard to keep the light of Festival International burning bright. I wanted to take a minute to send you a quick update. You have either already started hearing some rumors and reading some stories or you are most likely about to.
We have a long list of very serious challenges for Festival International 2021
Festival International will not happen in its full format that we all know and love for 2021
We spent 6 months brainstorming all kinds of crazy ideas on how to pivot and innovate
We have not been able to come up with any great holistic solution
We are now in a position where we have to make some decisions fairly soon
We have short and long terms challenges that we are working on in parallel
We are committed to getting back to planning Festival International de Louisiane in the familiar format in Downtown Lafayette that we all know and love. At the same time, we have to get through some really challenging years right now because of COVID-19.
Because of all of this, we have begun to reach out to our community partners for help and guidance. This is why you are starting to hear the stories. I have personally even reached out to some of Festival’s founders for “spiritual” advice and guidance on this matter. Yes, we have talked to some of our neighboring communities. No, we do not want to move Festival International from downtown Lafayette. We are simply not the type of organization to sit down and accept a terrible situation without getting creative and trying to innovate in order to survive for the long term.
That is the quick story. If you would like to read more, I will continue below with a recap of this past year, as well as more about what we are looking at now.
2020… We were all dealt some major challenges and had to fight to survive in so many ways. For us, we were faced with a total cancelation for the first time in our 34 year history. We were up against the possibility of a $486,000 loss, which would have been devastating. We got creative and decided to produce a Virtual Festival. We knew we wanted to be innovative and give you something to be proud of, but had no roadmap to follow. We had 3 weeks to pull everything together and made it up as we went. Our Board of Directors empowered our staff to embark on this journey and they stepped up to the challenge. We reached out to you for support and you rallied behind us.
What transpired was truly revolutionary and we could not have imagined it going any better than it did, given the circumstances. We had new, virtual performances of artists from 15 different countries and dozens of our favorite historical performances from AOC’s vault. We were able to showcase our city and rich culture and heritage to viewers from 44 different countries. It was more than just a live stream event online, though. 900 people participated in our Virtual 5K – running, walking, biking around town wearing Festival shirts. We had an entire community flying their Festival flags and decorating their porches. We had neighborhoods organizing their own “Scène des Jeunes”, with activities for kids, Festival coloring sheets and serving juice and water in Festival cups. Over 600 gallons of Festival punch and several thousand meals were served from our Festival cocktail and food vendors.
As a result of all of your support, we were able to mitigate much of the potential loss that we were faced with. We were not able to eliminate the entire loss, but enough to keep us in a position to fight on to live another day.
Now, we are looking to the Spring of 2021 and working through some of the same challenges that we dealt with this past April. From international travel restrictions and limited stateside venues available for cross-booking to social distancing guidelines and safety / security concerns, we have some big considerations to work through..
We are working hard to innovate once again for next year in order to provide our community a shining light to rally behind and keep Festival alive. We have spent the past six months internally mapping out all sorts of mitigation plans and strategies. We have a long list of possibilities - many of them are bad, some are OK, and a few of them could be great. We are now at a point where we need to start working on a final plan. In order to do this, we have begun to reach out to our external partners to exchange ideas and work on the possibilities. We are working closely with Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Lafayette Unlimited and Lafayette Consolidated Government, as well as others to sort this out.
We are not willing to give up (yet) on the idea of producing a live event. Once we accepted that we would not be able to plan our full Festival in its normal format and footprint, we began to think way outside of any box we ever had. This is the same creative process that we went through in order to produce our Virtual Fest this past Spring. We explored all kinds of bad ideas before coming up with a good one.
During this process, it is true that we have considered several additional / satellite venues for next year that are not in downtown, including Youngsville (among a dozen others) as a potential additional venues. The reasoning for a possible satellite venue is to help provide some more cross booking opportunities and bring in some additional support to offset some of the cost of flying in musicians. In a normal year, we are able to cross book with Festivals and venues around the country to help mitigate expenses and taxes. Right now, our options are very limited.
We are also exploring different possibilities for our downtown venues - we are simply looking at all sorts of scenarios in order to come up with a good plan that is responsible and makes sense for everybody. No matter what we come up with, it has to be flexible in a way that we can behave responsibly in regards to whatever the situation is with COVID-19 when April rolls around. This, of course, leaves open the possibility of not having a traditional live music performance with patrons in the venue.
Nothing has been decided at this point - it is all completely exploratory. Downtown will certainly play a big part of whatever format we come up with. Nobody is excited about the fact that we are forced to rethink our entire event - we all want to see Festival International return to its full urban format that we all love. When will that be? Because of a long list of challenges and a whole lot of uncertainty, we must get creative in order to survive and make it to the other side.
I commit to letting you know as soon as we have a final plan. In the interim, I would ask for your continued support and patience as we work through the process. We are not working on this alone and will be getting very creative in order to find the best possible solution. We have an entire team of very passionate people (staff, Board, community partners) involved and everybody’s hearts are in the right place. It is inspiring to see and feel all of the passion in our Festival community. We are humbled by this, as always. It will ultimately take all of us to come together and rise up to ensure that Festival International lives on and returns to its proper urban setting in downtown Lafayette - stronger than ever. I am confident that we will. Meanwhile, if you find a crystal ball and the magic bullet, please send them our way;)
Festival International de Louisiane