Letter in the Sidmouth Herald from Derek Schofield explaining how the Sidmouth Festival works - and how the present crisis has arisen.

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Lack of understanding of how festival functions

As a visitor to the town since 1971 and as someone involved with the Sidmouth International Festival (former arena director and the author of the soon-to-be-published history of the festival) perhaps I may comment on the current situation?

People do not appear to understand the financial structure of the festival. Sidmouth International Festival is a non-profit-distributing company, which contracts Mrs Casey Music to run the Festival. The festival costs about 750,000 to put on. Half a million pounds comes from committed income before the week starts and that leaves almost 250,000 to be raised during the week. That has to come largely from Arena ticket sales and if it rains for only part of the week then the income is not made but the costs still have to be paid. Who pays the loss? Not East Devon District Council, not the Arts Council, not the local businesses but the two shareholders of Sidmouth International Festival Limited Steve Heap and Richard Carver. Quite rightly these two men are now saying that the personal risk is too great.

In recent years the festival has not always covered its costs and when that has happened, Mrs Casey Music has subsidised the Festival from its other activities. In spite of best efforts. it has not been able to build up a wet-weather contingency fund since the previous fund disappeared in the wet and muddy year of 1997.

Some businesses and organisations in the town have been loyal and generous supporters of the festival, but not enough of them. It is accepted that most local businesses are relatively small and that no single business is able to sponsor the festival to the extent that is now needed. But 200,000 could be raised by 200 people pledging 1,000 each. As a private individual I have pledged my 1000 - how many local individuals and businesses will join me?

I note that East Devon District Council has commissioned an independent review of the festival. but I have been told that this is a confidential document of the council. I have no idea what is in the report, but I wonder why the council refuses to make it available? What are they afraid of?

I have no idea how much is spent each year on the promotion of tourism by the local councils, nor how much is spent by similar holiday resorts in other parts of the country. But I wonder what value could be placed on the existence of the festival in terms of tourism promotion? I would guess that the sum is far in excess of the 60,000 that EDDC is giving the festival in 2004.

But the festival is much more than a financial benefit. It is a significant arts event, known throughout the region, highly regarded all over the country and famous in folk music and dance circles throughout the world. The Sidmouth International Festival also enriches the lives of the residents of East Devon.


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