Folkmoot back in the tourism grant fold

fr folkmootThe Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will restore annual grant funding for Folkmoot USA, reversing a move last year to cut off the highly popular international folk dance festival. 


Folkmoot has struggled financially in recent years as local government funding has dried up. It was forced to rely solely on donors and ticket sales to hold the two-week long event that brings in 250 performers from nine countries. The festival costs more than $300,000 annually, and Folkmoot has had to dip into its reserves at an unsustainable pace to keep going.

For years, the nonprofit received up to $12,000 annually from the tourism authority to help with advertising and promotions. But last year, the board told Folkmoot leaders that it would no longer get a guaranteed allocation from the general tourism budget.

TDA board members expressed concern at the time that Haywood County was the only county in the region funding the Folkmoot festival, despite a handful of performances being staged in other counties as well. The board also stated they wanted to place an emphasis on supporting new events rather than continuing to prop up the same long-running festivals.

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However, this year — Folkmoot’s 30th year — the TDA has restored its general fund allocations for Folkmoot to the tune of $6,000 for advertising.

Folkmoot also won $8,000 from a separate pot of tourism dollars dolled out by a Waynesville grant funding committee — namely to spend on general operations in the name of International Festival Day, a free event in downtown Waynesville put on in cooperation with the Haywood Arts Council.

The nonprofit’s financial struggles convinced the TDA to reinstate some of the funding, said Ken Stahl, head of the TDA’s finance committee. Folkmoot also lost up to $100,000 annual grant funding from the county and state during the recession. The town of Waynesville is the only government entity still helping Folkmoot.

The tourism authority brings in more than $900,000 a year from a 4 percent tax on overnight lodging, and pumps that money back into tourism marketing and development.

Karen Babcock, executive director of Folkmoot USA, said it only seems right for the county’s tourism arm to allocate a set amount to the festival since it brings thousands of visitors to Haywood, where it is headquartered.

“Since Folkmoot is one of the longest running and most successful events in Haywood County, it makes sense,” Babcock said. “Mostly what we try to explain is the huge majority of events and audiences are in Haywood County.”

Meanwhile, Babcock and others at Folkmoot have worked to trim their expenses and be more fiscally responsible, including cutting the number of countries represented at the festival from 12 to nine. In 2008, the nonprofit spent $417,203 annually. The nonprofit has now slashed that amount to $311,145.

“That is pretty considerable,” Babcock said of the cuts.

Babcock said she hopes to balance Folkmoot’s budget by next year. 

“It has been a slow process, but we are working on being completely balanced,” she said.

While Folkmoot was cut last year from the tourism agency’s general budget, it was still been eligible for mini-grants given out from a separate pot of tourism money controlled by individual locales. Folkmoot ended up getting $8,000 last year in mini-grants from Waynesville.

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