March 26, 2013 10:19:48 AM
Barring a change of heart among organizers, there will be no Juneteenth Festival in Columbus this year. The Columbus Juneteenth Festival has been held every year since 1995.
Monday, the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors voted against a proposal to provide an $8,000 quality of life grant to the festival. At the meeting, Juneteenth committee representative Cindy Lawrence said, "Without funding, there will be no Juneteenth Festival in 2013."
Those familiar with the dispute aren't entirely sure this is the last we have heard on the subject. Funding for Juneteenth and other community festivals has been a point of contention since the CVB changed its festival funding guidelines last summer.
The CVB offers two kinds of grants: a tourism grant, capped at $15,000, and a quality of life grant, capped at $8,000. Tourism grant guidelines state a maximum of 25 percent of the funds may be spent on entertainment. Brooks has protested this limit, saying Juneteenth Festival spends most of its money on entertainment.
When Brooks was unable to convince the CVB to reconsider its guidelines, he took a calculated risk. At the board's December meeting, Brooks declined to accept a $15,000 tourism grant in protest over the stipulations.
Efforts between festival organizers and festival committee board members to meet to work out a compromise on grant guidelines never materialized.
Last month, Lawrence presented a request on behalf of the Juneteenth committee for a quality of life grant of $8,000. Unlike the tourism grant, there are no stipulations on how that money is spent.
When the CVB voted 4-3 against awarding that grant Monday, Brooks' gamble had failed.
In the aftermath, we fear there will be two prevailing points of view, both of them equally inaccurate and destructive.
Some will see the move as a slap in the face to the black community and its heritage. Brooks, whose unfortunate affinity for using race as a tactical weapon, will most certainly argue that festivals that appeal to the black population are held to a far more rigid standard than other events. He will argue, and has argued, that the CVB has a budget of more than $1.6 million, yet spends only a fraction of that money on festivals that serve as rallying points for the community.
Others will argue that Juneteenth organizers have come to view CVB funding as an entitlement. In fact, if the Juneteenth committee does decide to cancel this year's event, it only reinforces the point, detractors will say. They will point out the CVB shouldn't be in the festival business in the first place since its primary mission is to promote tourism rather than provide entertainment for residents.
We reject both arguments.
The claim of racism falls apart upon closer scrutiny. If the so-called "black" festivals have encountered resistance from the CVB, it is not a matter of race but of self-inflicted damage and missions that do not conform with the purpose of the CVB. Additionally, funding festivals just because they have been funded in the past is not acceptable. Each year, the CVB board has a responsibility to make sure funded festivals help the public organization meet its mission.
As to the charge that Juneteenth organizers have come to view CVB funding as an entitlement, they have a great opportunity to expose that view as a myth by holding a Juneteenth celebration this year.
Juneteenth organizers say the festival is important to the community. If that is true, and we believe it to be true, the festival will continue, with or without CVB funding. Rather than permit the CVB's decision to be the demise of the celebration, it should energize those who support it. Beat the bushes. Solicit community members and businesses. Explore other funding avenues. Scale back some of the plans, if necessary.
After all, the original celebration of Juneteenth -- when Union soldiers notified slaves in Texas that the Civil War had ended and they were free by presidential proclamation on June 19, 1865 -- did not require taxpayer funding.
That same spirit should prevail today.