TELLURIDE – A Telluride Town Council work session with the Commission for Community Assistance, Arts and Special Events (CCAASE) on Tuesday, Nov. 20 turned into a debate on how many large summer festivals the town can realistically sustain.
Discussion focused particularly on The Ride, a new rock-and-roll festival presented by KOTO radio last summer which some felt drew audiences away from more established music festivals, primarily the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, which happens in mid-September.
Last summer, The Ride happened in late August. Next summer, its promoters want to bump it up a weekend so that it occurs in the middle of the month, and they are projecting an audience of up to 9,000. CCAASE is the entity which determines when large festivals may schedule their events.
Many of those present at the work session expressed the sentiment that the town simply cannot sustain another major summer festival.
“You can’t have it all; you can’t have a major festival every weekend,” said an impassioned Steve Gumble, the owner and CEO of SBG Productions Inc., which produces Blues & Brews. “It’s great we have the venue (at Town Park) – it’s the best in the world. But that doesn’t mean you do something and abuse it. I just want you to really understand how delicate the balance of success is in this community. Don’t overdo it. That’s all I ask.”
A promoter for The Ride, addressing council via speaker phone, countered Gumble’s argument. “The town can handle another significant event,” he said. “Frankly, competition is good, if we are all striving to bring in talent, the community as a whole benefits.”
Jerry Green, the owner of Baked in Telluride, weighed in with a business owner’s perspective. “The Ride came in on a weekend that was pretty dead, and provided a boost. Now it wants to move back to the previous weekend that is already successful,” he said. “There is a big negative to the festival. The everyday tourists who come here for mountains, cultural and intellectual events, they flee when there is a giant festival. Every time we have a major festival it detracts from [other aspects of the town].”
Green suggested that CCAASE should instead be focusing on finding ways to bolster events during the winter months. “We should look at winter like we look at summer, bolstering a cultural and intellectual calendar,” he said. “We need to be building a sustainable economy based on many smaller things.”
Eileen McGinley concurred. “We have a whole different way about us here and we need to protect that,” she said. “Nine thousand people will put too much pressure on the community. Let’s not make our selections become who brings in the most money; we can’t make that the criteria. That’s where CCAASE has been the guiding light.”
McGinley advocated for to town to allocate more funding for CCAASE to distribute to local events and entities, “and I would encourage more kinds of intellectual, cultural events,” she said. “Music is always great, but not 9,000 people; it’s just too much.”
The mission of CCAASE is to develop, maintain and encourage an environment conducive to arts and special events organizations as well as community support organizations.
The commission administers Town Special Event Policies and recommends annual funding allocations to the Town Council for community nonprofit organizations, and also establishes and maintains a yearly town calendar of events.
Major festivals, including crowds of 3,000 or more, must apply with CCAASE for approval of their event dates, while minor festivals are simply advised to apply.
CCAASE has been charged with establishing a well-balanced calendar of events that is “inclusive, collaborative, and participative through improved communication, interaction and coordination within the arts community,” and to identify and solve conflicts and turn them into “coordinated opportunities.”
Councilor Kirsten Permakoff suggested that adding new events in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall would be a better idea than adding more to an already busy summer schedule.
Councilor Chris Myers said he felt that Telluride has reached “a very delicate balance, decades in the making.
“We have made some forays into doing engineering of the economic mix,” he said. “Our responsibility is more than the economy; it’s quality. We need to look at this from the whole community’s perspective, not just those looking for sales tax revenues; we need to manage this carefully.”
Councilor Bob Saunders concurred. “We have reached the limit on what we can comfortably do in this community [while] keeping respect for those who just live here. I’ve had numerous people come to me and say the quality of life is changing here. It’s not a comfortable place anymore; summer is so busy it is affecting quality of life.”
Saunders recommended the town should strive for a “balance of being able to still support the smaller events we have without forcing them out.”
CCAASE receives an annual budget allocation from the Town of Telluride to fulfill its mission, and distributes funds to qualifying events and organizations. The town’s 2013 budget for CCAASE includes the same amount that was allotted in 2012 – $137,000 for arts and special events and $100,000 for community support – even though funding requests have increased over the past year.
Many community members insisted that the town should allocate more to CCAASE’s budget, but Town Manager Greg Clifton flatly told them “no can do,” explaining that there is no spare money in this year’s budget with which to achieve this.
Mayor Stu Fraser backed Clifton up. “There are very limited places where there is any money available (in this year’s budget),” he said. “I greatly appreciate everyone saying we should support CCAASE more, but there won’t be any shifting of money from A to B.”
“I support more funding for CCAASE,” Councilor Thom Carnevale said. “But not in this budget, because this is a very tight time.”