The executive director of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival faced questions about her organization’s commitment to diversity as she asked the City Council for financial support.
The council voted 8-1 on Monday night to provide $15,000 to support what Executive Director Sarahgrace Snipes called the sustainability of the festival. But council members asked that Snipes report back to them with a plan of action to tackle their concerns about diversity in the festival’s entertainment lineup.
Councilwoman Shakeyla Ingram cast the lone vote opposing the appropriation. Earlier in the meeting, Ingram expressed concern about a lack of diversity, agreeing with Mayor Mitch Colvin and saying, "There are a lot of missing pieces to the puzzle."
Snipes has overseen the Dogwood Festival since being hired in April 2021.
The $15,000 will be used to pay off costs of the spring festival and contribute to financial sustainability “so we do not have to dip into the savings account," she told the council.
Snipes reminded council members that the spring festival and other activities were canceled in 2020 and scaled back in 2021 because of restrictions on crowds gathering during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I started on April 19, 2021, I’ll be honest; it was my first job,” Snipes said. “I was super-excited, eager to get into the office and start planning events. But along with the job, I saw that there were many challenges that the Dogwood Festival still has to iron out, and one of them was COVID-19 and making sure that we were financially stable.”
On her first day, she said, she found out that the organization had to postpone a mini-festival that was scheduled for the following weekend.
The event was rescheduled to June 2021 and moved to Festival Park. Then the state relaxed its mass-gathering policies, which meant the minifestival could be open to public and not have to charge for tickets.
“It was quite successful,” Snipes said. “And might I add, we received funding from the city of Fayetteville, which contributed to its success.”
A couple of Fayetteville After Five concerts also were staged in July and August 2021. Organizers struggled with attendance at those shows, according to Snipes.
“We demonstrated a strong presence in the community while building sustainability for the winter months,” she said. “... There is no sustainable income other than sponsorships, and that depends on when sponsors choose to pay.”
The spring Dogwood Festival returned in April 2022 for its 40th edition.
City Council members Kathy Jensen and D.J. Haire voiced support for the festival.
"Dogwood Festival is our heritage. It's part of what we do," Jensen said.
Councilman Larry Wright asked Snipes if she believes this year’s festival was a success.
"Yes, I believe it was successful," she said, adding that attendance was roughly 215,000 over three days.
But Wright said he is concerned about "the diversity of people" who perform for festivalgoers.
Mayor Colvin asked Snipes what festival organizers are doing to diversify the music lineup. He said he has heard complaints about a lack of diversity of entertainment since he joined the council in 2013.
In 2022, he noted, Friday’s concert featured rock bands, Saturday’s featured country performers and Sunday’s was a band that pays tribute to the artist Prince.
“What are you doing to speak to the diversity of the community with your lineup?” Colvin asked.
Snipes said financing is a factor in that.
“My concern with expanding the nights – I would like to touch on every population in Fayetteville. Get the country night, get the rock night, get the tribute night. … And also add on another night," Snipes said. “I believe we did hip-hop in past years. I think that is an excellent idea, but my concern is that if we do not have the funding to spread into four nights, then we’re not going to be able to expand into four nights.”
Colvin asked why the festival favors rock and country artists.
“My knowledge is that is what Dogwood Festival has always done,” Snipes responded.
“That is what I wanted to draw out,” Colvin said. "You’re here today, so only your 2022 request is being considered, not historical performance. Historically, the community hasn’t really done a good job being inclusive and diverse. So what is your plan to change that? …”
Snipes said, “I personally would like to hear from the community what they would like to see. Because my goal as executive director -- and I’ve stood very firmly since my hire -- is to provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all community members to enjoy. So I am always open. I cannot change what Dogwood Festival has done historically or my predecessors have done. I am always open to hear.
“And I want to be the change for the organization,” she said.
Snipes said that in the festival’s annual operating budget, the top three expenses are the music acts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“All the acts are close to $75,000,” she said.
Administrative costs include $108,000 for insurance, payroll, permits and facility maintenance.
Production costs of the spring festival are close to $40,000, she said.
For the fall Dogwood Festival, she said, the cost is about $30,000. The Miss Fayetteville Dogwood Festival, which this year was rescheduled to September, costs an average of $10,000 to put on.
The festival’s summer concert series averages $43,500, Snipes said.
The festival organization received $25,000 from the Tourism Development Authority of Cumberland County, Snipes said. Sponsorship income since April 2021 totals $180,000.
Over the past year, the festival has received grants in collaboration with The Arts Council of Fayetteville Cumberland County, Snipes said.