Carmel’s proposed art and film fest in jeopardy after city councilors oppose additional funding 

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Carmel’s proposed art and film festival is in jeopardy after several members of the Carmel City Council said they wouldn’t support allocating additional funds to launch the event during uncertain times.

Planned for May 14 to 22, 2021, the festival would feature film screenings, live music and celebrity appearances in Carmel’s central core. It would be run through a nonprofit but launched with financial assistance from the City of Carmel, similar to the Carmel Christkindlmarkt.

“We feel it will be opening at a time people will be coming out of the downturn because of the pandemic and the film industry will be ready and anxious to be able to show a lot of films that have been put on hiatus or their release has been delayed,” said Nancy Heck, Carmel’s director of community relations and economic development, during a monthly report on the festival at the virtual June 3 city council meeting.

The council allocated $125,000 for the event in its 2019 budget and approved $50,000 in the 2020 budget, much less than the $425,000 requested by Heck for 2020. Councilors told Heck at that time she would need to come back to the council to request additional funds.

During the council meeting, Heck said the board created a nine-day schedule and budget for the festival, although she did not provide the documents to councilors before the meeting. After questioning from council member Sue Finkam, Heck said she planned to request $375,000 in 2020 and $450,000 in 2021 for the festival, although she said the total for 2020 includes the $175,000 already allocated for the event.

Finkam said she would not vote in favor of additional city funds for the festival in the near future.

“I’m not in support of having this festival in May of next year. I am concerned about COVID coming back until we have a vaccine, and I am concerned about the perception about what our priorities are,” she said. “I had significant concerns about this (festival) before. My concerns still exist and probably are exacerbated given the uncertainty in the world right now. I feel we’ve got bigger priorities to focus on.”

Councilor Jeff Worrell said he believes the festival is a good idea but that the timing isn’t right to launch it.

“I don’t think it shows good judgement for us to start something new (when) we’re in two situations that are unprecedented,” he said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests of the death of George Floyd. “While I would love to just trot on down the road and act like everything is going to work out, I cannot in good conscience support a huge endeavor that is untested.”

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said festival organizers are working on an agreement with a presenting sponsor for “well over $1 million over the first five years of the festival.” He said the festival would help support local restaurants, hotels and small businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That would be very good economic development as we come out next year,” Brainard said. “I understand risk, and I understand perception, but I believe there’s a good argument to be made that our investments in the arts have paid off.”

Kevin “Woody” Rider, who owns two restaurants in central Carmel, said the potential benefits to local business from the festival are not worth the risk of planning it in uncertain times.

Finkam urged Heck to stop spending city funds on the project.

“I don’t want another dime spent on this,” Finkam said. “My concern is a lot of (the previously approved funding) is going to be used to keep this going around the council. I’m not going to be happy if that happens.”

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