Latest news on the future of the Festival: as of July 2004
This page records the position as of immediately before the 2004 Sidmouth Festival. The week was rife with rumour and counter rumour.
Still no news from EDDC about a meeting of 'interested parties' to discuss the future of the festival. Locally, it is felt that EDDC may be spending time planning how to cover their backs if it all goes wrong next year. The last time Steve Heap was in Sidmouth, key EDDC people/councillors were not free, so a meeting of 'interested parties' was postponed.
There was a short report in the local paper for 9 July - the gist of this and from further discussions in Sidmouth has been incorporated into the previous page. It is almost as if the topic has died a death with most people in the town either not caring or believing that if they do nothing things will turn out for the best anyway. If the festival is 'saved' there will be few people in Sidmouth to thank. Much of the effort is from elsewhere in the south-west.
A lot more views from folkies have been collated and added to new pages grouped here.
At EDDC, discussions have been taking place with an unnamed company who has expressed interest in running the festival (in partnership with EDDC?) but a deal seems some way off. No-one seems likely to take it on as a long term venture without some long term guarantee of support. The umf group on google has references to a 'big big big' company interested in getting involved.
What seems lacking locally - at least from the discussions as they are reported - is comprehension that the festival has only been successful in the past because of the huge input from Steve Heap and a team of dedicated staff and volunteer stewards whose expertise has been built up sometimes over a decade and more. It is a moot point whether control could be passed smoothly to a new company, with the possibility that 2005 may be a smaller event than in 2003/4 and with some stewards being effectively laid off.
A worrying factor is that many people may see 2004 as the 'last of the great years' and decide to call it a day. After all, there are plenty of smaller festivals to attend if Sidmouth loses what has kept it unique for so long. Any company taking on the festival for 2005 might find advance bookings down as people decided to 'give it a year or so to settle'. Much of the attraction of the festival as it is currently organised is the certainty of feeling part of the same 'big happy family' for a week. Even within Sidmouth there is doubt about the viability of a 'fringe festival' - much smaller in scale and maybe in duration. Reducing the duration could be the worst thing to do because of the journey times and costs for many UK and overseas attendees.
Folkies in the south west are trying to put together a package that would see the festival run by a trust and which could apply for Arts Council funding - one option that was discussed at the town meeting on 14 June. The problem at the moment (as I understand it) is that the festival is run as a professional business and is ineligible to receive Arts Council support.
Much may depend on whether a major commercial sponsor can be found - there are enough people in and around Devon who would be prepared to help run a large festival and some of them have relevant experience. A principal difficulty may be obtaining liability insurance if the new organisers have no 'track record' of running such a large event themselves. There is also the small matter of 'risk capital'.
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