CEDAR RAPIDS — Another of the artists featured in last summer’s “newbo evolve” festival says her check for being its keynote speaker bounced, but unlike filmmaker John Waters — who blasted the city after getting stiffed — still has good feelings about Cedar Rapids.
“I’ve had a few months to think about it, and I still have warm feelings about the people of Cedar Rapids,” said Amy Newmark, author, editor-in-chief and publisher of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series. “I still view newbo evolve as a success, for Cedar Rapids to put on an event that was three days and do it so well.”
Newmark agreed to $5,000, a “fraction” of her usual fee, to be the keynote speaker for the Aug. 3-5 festival put on by the now-closed GO Cedar Rapids tourism bureau. But she received none of it, she said.
Newmark contacted The Gazette to provide a letter to the editor about her experiences and agreed to a phone interview from Connecticut.
“I don’t regret it. For a while I was really shocked. I was shocked the city would hide behind, quote, ‘it was a separate legal entity,’” she said. “But it makes me feel better about the situation knowing people I know in Cedar Rapids are upset and embarrassed about this. I would never want to blame the people in Cedar Rapids for actions of the municipal government.”
The city had funded the majority of GO Cedar Rapids’ budget for years through public hotel-motel taxes to market tourism, but the two organizations were separate. City officials have faced criticism for their position that it would be inappropriate and poor precedent to pay the festival vendors on behalf of GO Cedar Rapids.
The bureau folded after the event lost $2.3 million. It owed $800,000 to vendors and $1.5 million to Bankers Trust.
The GO Cedar Rapids board of directors has declined to say specifically which vendors were not paid. The market president for the bank lost his job in the aftermath.
GO Cedar Rapids also owed $500,000 to the city, but the city was repaid by using hotel motel tax money that was earmarked for the bureau.
GO Cedar Rapids chief executive Aaron McCreight and community events director Scott Tallman were blamed for the losses and fired.
Waters, one of the headline acts, said he would never come back to Cedar Rapids and would tell anyone who asked him not to come either after part of his fee wasn’t paid. Waters also got into a war of words with Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, who criticized the artist for badmouthing the city.
Newmark said she had been putting off festival organizers for months, but signed on after a pitch that the festival was marking the 10th anniversary of the historic Cedar Rapids flood. She said the complex event with speakers, concerts, dining showcases and fitness seminars was well organized and executed.
Attendees generally praised the event, but crowds never materialized in the numbers promised.
Newmark said she was supposed to receive a check when she arrived, but felt it rude to ask for money when she was speaking with local dignitaries. Plus, she never felt payment was in question since it was put on by the city’s tourism bureau, she said.
“I agreed to do it because I thought how cool is this — the city came back from this awful flood that we heard about all around the country,” she said. “I thought this is the kind of thing ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ should be part of. I said, ‘I want to be an honorary citizen of Cedar Rapids for a long weekend.’”
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