(The Daily Advertiser) – Festival International de Louisiane will be smaller in 2017. With one major sponsor gone and others uncommitted, Festival International officials have cut the Heritage Stage for next year.
The Heritage Stage, located in a Jefferson Street parking lot across from the Chase Bank building, featured local acts, such as Cajun, zydeco, blues and country bands.
Scott Feehan, the festival’s executive director, said the loss of the Heritage Stage may be only the beginning of the cuts. Feehan said negotiations continue with sponsors, who cite Lafayette’s sluggish oil economy and August flooding as reasons for their lack of participation.
But as of Monday, no festival stages had sponsors.
“As of right now, we don’t have a single stage sponsored,” said Feehan. “It’s normal at this time of year to have to find a sponsor for one stage. Maybe two.
“If we get two, we get nervous. Right now, it’s none of them.”
Feehan declined to single out sponsors who have withdrawn or those that are undecided about their commitment. But the festival’s 2016 map listed the major stages and their sponsors as Scene Chevron (Heritage), Scene Lafayette General (Fais Do Do), Scene TV 5 Monde (Lafayette), LUS LA Craft Biergarten, Popeyes Pavilion de Cuisine and Scene Cypress Bayou Casino (main stage).
With crude oil prices declining, Chevron announced earlier this year a plan to layoff as many as 385 workers in five office locations in Lafayette and Covington.
A loss of total corporate support could cause a $330,000 shortfall in the festival’s $1 million budget. The festival also gets nearly $200,000 from individual donor programs, such as paid passes, Amis du Festival and the Rain Angels Circle.
Feehan said corporate sponsors started pulling out after last year’s event.
“For probably three months after the festival, we had phone call after phone call losing support,” said Feehan. “Everybody’s citing the same thing — it’s a tough economy and then the flood hit. That didn’t help anybody.
“For four months, we were getting told no. At some point, we had to start making those decisions.”
Feehan added with the loss of the Heritage Stage, many acts normally booked for that venue will be worked onto other stages.
Last year, Festival International celebrated its 30th anniversary as the largest, free Francophone festival in the United States. More than 300,000 annually attend the downtown Lafayette festival, resulting in a $49 million impact in the local economy.
The festival has never had an admission charge. But Feehan points out that only a handful of people who annually attend the festival contribute financial donations.
Feehan said the festival remains committed to open admission. But more corporate and individual support is essential.
“If everybody that walked through our gates donated $10, we’d be in a much different place,” said Feehan. “As recently as three years ago, with over 300,000 people coming to the festival, we have under 300 people supporting it — from a $50 Amis level to a $60,000 corporate level. We need more than 300 people in this community to support it.
“On the other end, it’s a huge festival. Last year, we tried to return to our roots to some degree. We got the founders back. We got the art exhibit going. We don’t need to be a huge pop festival for everybody. We want to be Festival International. We want to be true to our roots and engage with the international communities in this area. We want to stimulate trade, attract businesses to this area.
“We don’t want to charge at the gate. But it’s up to the community to make that happen.”