Staff Editorial

Festival's future rests on a transparent assessment

Bob Jones and Echo Peterson of Cedar Rapids set up a spotlight tower in front of the main stage during Newbo Evolve preparations in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Bob Jones and Echo Peterson of Cedar Rapids set up a spotlight tower in front of the main stage during Newbo Evolve preparations in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

Many who attended the first-ever newbo evolve dubbed the three-day festival, which drew musical acts and pop culture stars to Cedar Rapids, an all-caps success. They heard stimulating talks from chefs, authors, experts, athletes and more. Pop music acts Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 drew large crowds to an untried outdoor venue that swiftly became a city showcase.

For those of us who hoped newbo evolve would succeed, there certainly were successes to count. And for those of us who want the festival, in some form, to continue, we also see the need for a clear-eyed, transparent assessment of what didn’t succeed.

Gazette journalists used the term “modest” multiple times to describe audiences attending sessions with celebrity speakers. Although the event’s driving force, GO Cedar Rapids, hasn’t disclosed how many three-day, $375 festival passes were sold, it seems clear sales fell far short of the 4,000 passes available.

The festival’s budget has been estimated in the $4 million to $5 million range, including public dollars raised through hotel/motel taxes. The likely gap between revenue and spending on big name acts raises immediate questions about the festival’s financial performance, questions that need to be answered publicly.

A loss is to be expected in the event’s first year. And it’s true, a large pool of red ink will undoubtedly draw some sharp criticism. But we believe transparency is crucial, not only to account for public funds, but also to help the community understand what it took to pull off an event of this magnitude. Transparency might actually prompt a broader array of groups and individuals to get involved and share the risk next time.

And newbo evolve’s financial performance should spark a community conversation on the festival’s future, scope and structure.

If the community wants the event to continue, should it be a large festival aimed at bringing visitors from far beyond Cedar Rapids, or should it be an event targeting an audience more local or regional in scope? If $375 passes didn’t catch on, what pricing structure would work better?

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Does the event have the leadership structure that positions it for growth? How can we gain even more buy-in and planning help from the local arts community, business owners and non-profits and others? Broader community ownership of the event could be the key to its survival.

This is a conversation that should happen soon, providing ample time to contemplate newbo evolve’s future, consider options and recalibrate its structure. We want to see newbo evolve survive, succeed and, yes, evolve.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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