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Admission fees? New venue? Consultant suggests changes to Dogwood Festival

2024’s event well underway for the last weekend in April


As April’s Dogwood Festival inches closer, a consultant has suggested significant changes to downtown Fayetteville’s biggest annual event — including admission charges — to keep it viable and growing.

The consultant, Art of Impact, said the Dogwood Festival board should also consider whether to keep holding it in Festival Park downtown, and whether to end the Dogwood organization’s summer concert series and end its fall festival.

None of those suggestions apply to the 2024 spring festival, which is the weekend of April 26 to 28.

Plans are well underway for the 2024 Fayetteville Dogwood Festival despite the lack of a paid executive director and other challenges, board members Jackie Tuckey and Andrew Porter tell CityView.

“We’re moving it forward,” Tuckey said. “We’re having this festival.”

Fewer concerts at this year’s festival

This year’s festival will have most of the activities that attendees have seen in recent years, Tuckey and Porter said, including arts-and-craft vendors, amusement park rides, live performances by dancers, aerialists and others, and food vendors.

The main difference to the festival this year is that there will be fewer headlining musical acts. Concerts were traditionally held all three evenings. Instead, Tuckey said, soldiers in the All-American Rock Band of the 82nd Airborne Division All-American Band and Chorus at Fort Liberty, also known as Riser Burn, will perform on Friday night.

Porter said the festival has about $30,000 to $40,000 in debts from last year. By doing without paid musical guests, this year’s revenue will serve to cover what’s owed plus the costs of putting on this year’s festival, he said.

The All-American Rock Band performs for free, Tuckey said.

“And they are a great band. I’ve heard them before,” Tuckey said. The band has never performed at the Dogwood Festival, and it’s excited to be there, she said. 

Major Deirdra Johnson, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne Division, said the band plays classic rock and pop music.

But the door isn’t completely closed to other performers, Tuckey said.

“There may be some surprises left for us, of income, that would allow us to get some kind of smaller live band out there,” she said.

Long history, recent financial troubles

The Fayetteville Dogwood Festival was founded in 1982 by community leaders and first staged in April 1983. The Fayetteville Dogwood Festival Inc. is an independent nonprofit organization headed by a team of unpaid volunteers, though they have hired paid staff, including an executive director.

In addition to the spring festival, it has operated a series of free summer concerts called Fayetteville After Five, a Dogwood Fall Festival and other events.

The festival has reported in recent years that it has drawn a quarter-million people to downtown Fayetteville over festival weekends.

The 2020 festival was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, Porter and Tuckey said, it has faced pressures of inflationary costs along with the rest of the country.

Filings with the Internal Revenue Service say that in 2020, 2021 and 2022, the Dogwood Festival Inc.’s expenses exceeded its income.

The most recent executive director, Sarahgrace Snipes Mitchell, left in June 2023. She is now a planner for the Cumberland County government.

Porter said the board of directors has interviewed several people for the executive director position but none were qualified.

Consultant proposes changes

In November, the Fayetteville City Council voted to have the Fayetteville Cumberland County Economic Development Corp. hire a consultant to look at the Dogwood Festival — with cost expected to be less than $20,000, according to a memo to the City Council.

The consultant was to do an analysis and feasibility study on the festival. Its report was to include recommendations on maintaining a viable organizational structure for the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, a viable governance structure for the festival, and to suggest opportunities for a sustainable festival that meets the needs of residents and visitors.

A firm from Louisville, Kentucky, called Art of Impact, returned its thoughts in the past several weeks with a 35-page presentation. Some of the suggestions:

Dogwood Festival finds itself at an inflection point,” the report says. “It is operating under a historical foundation that needs modernizing. The entity type, governance, staffing, operations, systems, processes and accountability mechanisms all need refining.”

Porter said the suggestions are not necessarily the path the festival will take.

“I actually had a lot of issues with the report,” he said. “It seemed that it was a very generic report. It wasn’t targeted to Fayetteville.”

For example, the report “had no mention of Fort Liberty, and that seems like that is a big oversight,” Porter said. Fort Liberty and its more than 50,000 uniformed personnel plus their families are the chief economic driver of the Fayetteville economy.

It’s possible that a concert by a big-name musician could be ticketed, he said, but “I think the one thing about the Dogwood Festival that draws not only people from Cumberland County, but the surrounding counties, is it is free.”

It showcases that downtown Fayetteville has transformed, Porter said. Downtown used to be rundown and full of strip clubs prior to major revitalization that started in the 1980s.

It’s a chance for people to say, “Hey, look! Fayetteville isn’t what it was,” Porter said. “This is downtown Fayetteville. Look how wonderful it is. Look how far it’s come. And that’s what the Dogwood Festival showcases.”

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

This story was made possible by contributions to CityView News Fund, a 501c3 charitable organization committed to an informed democracy.

This article has been updated to correct the opening date listed for the start of the 2024 Dogwood Festival.

dogwood festival, 82nd airborne