News Headlines

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. 

moot performersNew Zealand — Whitireia Performing Arts

Whitireia Performing Arts is affiliated with New Zealand College of Performing Arts. This school is an energetic setting that prides itself on high-quality performing art programs and performers.

moot guidesFor many teens growing up in Haywood County, becoming a Folkmoot guide is a dream come true. The job means spending two weeks with a group of international dancers and musicians, helping them with everything from getting to performances on time to making trips to Walmart for shopping excursions.

moot serbiaThe Serbian group Talija Art Co., crowd pleasers at the 2009 Folkmoot, will make a return appearance at this year’s folk festival.

op fr“You know, this is really the only thing I know I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”

That was my daughter Hannah, a rising senior at Tuscola. She’s had a lifelong gift for coming up with sweeping, profound declarations that make Lori and I laugh first and then ponder later.

She’s talking about being a guide at Folkmoot, which she is this year for the first time. The guides get to spend the entire 12-day festival with their group, eating and sleeping at the Folkmoot Friendship Center, helping the groups make it on time to all their performances and making sure all their other needs are taken care of.

coverThe popular Folkmoot international festival will become a shadow of its current self in 2014 if its financial outlook doesn’t take a quick turn for the better.

Finding a new home for the Folkmoot sculpture in downtown Waynesville has taken a new turn.

The Waynesville public art commission initially proposed moving the art piece across the street — from its current spot in front of the new town hall to the old town hall.

When the art commission asked the town to sign off on the move earlier this month, however, the town board had a different idea.

The board agreed that the structure must be moved but felt old town hall wasn’t fitting for several reasons. One was there simply is not enough room. The other was lack of visibility to adequately showcase the piece. Plus, the town board expressed concerns that the “disco-ball effect” created by spinning flags on top of the statue would irritate people in adjacent office buildings.

Such complaints by the police department was one of the reasons for moving it in the first place. There have also been occasions when one or more of the flags has fallen off the statue because of high winds that whip by it.

Town board members are strongly considering placing it somewhere on the grounds of the historic courthouse and justice center — a prominent locale for a sculpture celebrating one of Waynesville’s most well known festivals. The art piece features a flowing, banner-like dancer with seven flags that turn in the wind to represent the famed international dance and music festival.

The statue was installed at its current location in 2009 and was created by renowned artist Wayne Trapp.

The 2011 Folkmoot Festival will take place July 21 through 31 throughout 12 counties in Western North Carolina, with new performances in Hickory and Jonesborough, Tenn.

Folkmoot performances can be seen in 16 cities, including Asheville, Hendersonville, Franklin, Burnsville, Maggie Valley and Waynesville.

Dancers and musicians in colorful traditional costumes from Trinidad, Croatia, Finland, Burundi, Puerto Rico, China, Guadeloupe, Turkey, Italy and the USA are expected to appear in more than 70 performances during the two-week event.

Performers travel to North Carolina for two weeks of entertainment, cultural exchange and education, to share cultural traditions with broad audiences and ensure these traditions are not lost in a fast-paced modern world.

Festivals like Folkmoot do not provide payment to the groups for their performances. Instead, all expenses are covered by the Festival, from the group’s arrival at a nearby international airport to their departure from the same airport two weeks later. Folkmoot staff will prepare 20,000 meals for performers and buses will travel more than 10,000 miles transporting groups to performances.

There are more than 300 international festivals like Folkmoot USA across the globe, but Folkmoot is one of only two similar international festivals in the United States.

The Parade of Nations is scheduled for Friday, July 22, from the historic courthouse down Main Street in Waynesville to the Waynesville First Baptist Church. The Folkmoot 5K Run/Walk & Kid’s Fun Run will be held Saturday, July 23, in front of the Folkmoot Friendship Center.

Haywood County Arts Council’s International Festival Day takes place on Saturday, July 30, and features Folkmoot performers on stages throughout the day. In addition to 21 ticketed public performances, Folkmoot dancers and musicians are featured at many other private and charitable performances during the two-week Folkmoot Festival.

For a full performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit www.FolkmootUSA.org.

Folkmoot festival has lost a vital source of advertising money, jeopardizing its ability to lure visitors to Haywood County during the festival’s two-week summer run.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority announced its intention this month to yank its annual contribution to Folkmoot USA. The TDA has given Folkmoot between $6,000 and $12,000 every year since the festival’s inception in 1984.

Folkmoot President Chuck Dickson made a heartfelt pitch to the TDA board last week, asking them to reinstate the funding.

“Folkmoot has helped put Haywood County on the map and has definitely enhanced Haywood County’s reputation as a tourist destination,” Dickson told the 15 members of the TDA board.

TDA board members cited a still-slumping economy and overhead associated with a new downtown Waynesville visitor center as the culprits.

The festival turns Haywood County into an international bazaar every July, with more than 200 dancers and musicians from a dozen countries staging a series of performances and parades. The TDA funding is spent marketing the festival to audiences across the South.

Last year, Folkmoot only got a portion of what they requested — $6,000 of the $9,000 they were looking for — which covered just under a third of the $19,000 spent on advertising.

Cutting the contribution altogether would hurt Folkmoot’s ability to publicize the festival. Dickson said Folkmoot helps TDA achieve its own mission of luring overnight visitors.

“We put heads in beds — perhaps more than any other event in Haywood County,” said Dickson. “In 2010, 5,000 people attended ticketed events, 2,000 attended free events, and over 50,000 attended the parade and Festival Day, two events for which Folkmoot receives absolutely no money.”

Dickson came armed with both a crowd of Folkmoot supporters and an economic impact study done by Western Carolina University in 2008.

The study walks through the particulars of just how much money and business the festival pulls into the county, but the final total was over $4 million for the 2007 festival.

“These contributions not only increase the appeal of the festival from year to year, but help reinforce the attractiveness of the area in general and that of all other cultural events in the region,” summarized the study.

 

TDA cuts spurred by budget woes of its own

None of the TDA board members were arguing against that claim. In fact, several espoused the merits of having such a large and unique event housed in the county for such a long time.

However, they weren’t enamored enough to restore the funding.

The TDA board cited the same oft-repeated reason for budget cuts heard at the local, state and national levels of late: it’s the economy, what else can we do?

“It’s more about looking at harsh finances right now and looking at the bigger picture. I would rather give people more money, but we’re just in a situation with the budget and the money’s just not coming in,” said Jennifer Duerr, TDA board member and owner of the Windover Inn.

The TDA raises money with a 4 percent tax on overnight lodging, bringing in close to $1 million a year. As tourism has dropped with the recession, however, the TDA has seen its budget shrink by nearly $300,000 in three years.

This year alone, the TDA has come up $115,000 short of what it anticipated, leaving the agency struggling to make mid-year budget cuts.

TDA Board Member Ken Stahl floated the idea that Folkmoot lobby Buncombe and Jackson counties for contributions, but Dickson said that tactic was a bit of a long shot, given that they only put on a max of two shows in those counties.

The official suggestion was that Folkmoot apply to special pots of TDA money controlled by individual communities within the county. Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde each get a slice of TDA money to spend on pet projects, from concerts to brochures to micro-level marketing. A quarter of the total TDA budget is divvied up among the county’s five locales.

The TDA board told Folkmoot to take its request to the five committees that oversee the five pots of money.

Folkmoot has historically been paid out of the general fund since the festival is county-wide and holds events in literally each of the five locales, Dixon said. So which one would Folkmoot apply to? The board told Dixon to apply to all five.

The problem there is that those committees won’t have any cash to hand out until autumn at the earliest. In fact, grants for this round of funding were approved later at the same meeting.

Not everybody on the TDA board was in favor of cutting Folkmoot from the tourism agency’s general budget.

Mark Clasby, the county’s economic development director who also sits on the TDA, was vocally opposed to revoking the money.

“The recognition Folkmoot has brought to Haywood County is tremendous, and I disagree with the recommendation that you’re making,” Clasby told board members. “I think it’s wrong.”

Clasby said that Folkmoot is so well-known it’s one of the tools he uses to pitch Haywood County when he’s out courting business development for the county, and that if any organization deserves the money, it’s Folkmoot.

“I certainly understand the budget situation we’re all facing, but at least give them some funding and support,” said Clasby.

TDA Board Member Jennifer Duerr countered Clasby’s view, arguing that it’s just about a change in the way funds are given out, thanks to the economy. The dwindling general fund should be kept for county-wide causes, she said.

“It’s not that we want to not give the money, it’s just not there. Do we give the money to one event, or keep it to represent the entire county?” asked Duerr.

Other members voiced similar views, with Alice Aumen, the board’s chairperson, saying that this year’s budget has been particularly trying.

“It has been one of the most difficult years since I’ve been on the board,” said Aumen.

James Carver, owner of the Maggie Valley Restaurant and board member, said he’d love to give Folkmoot money this year, but that it just wasn’t there.

“I‘ve always been a big supporter of Folkmoot, but money’s down,” said Carver.

In the end, the TDA board gave Dickson and his compatriots their apologies and an invitation to come back and ask again next year, but if they were hoping for a check, they went away empty handed.

“What we would like to leave Folkmoot with is that it is an important event. We all hope it’s going to be a great year for travel and tourism and revenues are going to come up,” said TDA Board Member Sue Knapko, encouraging festival officials to come back again if the committees don’t work out.

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