Highland News Leader
Highland city leaders have opted not to grant funds to the chamber of commerce’s annual street art festival, after a councilman raised questions about increased money for signage.
Councilman John Hipskind, who had requested a delay in voting on the city’s annual sponsorship of the festival, said he was concerned about the amount of the request. The city’s share would have been $6,254 with an estimated total of $20,674 festival revenues, an increase of approximately $800 over last year’s amount. Hipskind said he was concerned the cost of the festival was estimated at $13,577, while the chamber argued they had to make a profit on the event as it is a fundraiser for them.
Chamber director Nancy Zobrist spoke at last week’s city council meeting to answer Hipskind’s questions in an exchange that became somewhat contentious.
Zobrist said the chamber was spending more on new signs that would be placed at strategic locations around the city.
“We are investing in those signs so they can be used year after year,” Zobrist said. “It should cover the promotional area so we won’t have to do additional signs next year.”
In response to further questioning, Zobrist clarified that the Chamber does not sell alcohol at the event, but receives a percentage of sales as they do off the food and other vendors. Alcohol sales are managed by the Jaycees under their liquor license, she said.
At one point, Hipskind asked Zobrist if she had “hard data” proving that spending more on advertising the event would increase attendance. Zobrist said she felt it was a “loaded question,” but said another art event in the area spends 46 percent of its budget on advertising, and when they decided to spend more on advertising, their event grew.
“It made sense,” she said.
Hipskind replied he wants the event to succeed, but believed the Chamber was asking for too much money.
“In business, you need to have a return on investment, and that’s the way I think government should work,” he said.
Zobrist said she believes the art festival and the Chamber’s work does fulfill an important role in the community.
“When people visit, they want to move here, work here, and that all contributes to strengthening our local economy,” she wrote on the application for the city’s funding.
The event attracts 2,000 to 2,500 visitors, depending on weather. Councilwoman Sarah Sloan said the street art festival was what brought her into the community as the first event she attended here.
Councilwoman Peggy Bellm pointed out the funds come from the hotel/motel tax, so it is being paid by people from outside Highland for local events.
“It does seem like a lot of money, but having seen the event, it could be a much bigger event than it is if more were spent on advertising,” Bellm said.
But Hipskind said he believes no business should increase its advertising budget without specific data supporting the return on the investment.
Hipskind and councilman Rick Frey voted no, and Bellm and Sloan voted yes. Mayor Joe Michaelis broke the tie by voting no, and the measure did not pass.
Zobrist left the meeting immediately after the vote and could not be reached for comment later.
About the street art festival
The street art festival is scheduled to take place in September. It will be the 17th annual event, including temporary chalk drawings on the sidewalks from local and not-so-local artists, a kids’ art corner, interactive art from the Highland Arts Council, a “maker’s market,” food and drink vendors and live entertainment.