The Highland Street Art Festival will take place even without funding from the city, but the Highland Chamber of Commerce will be evaluating its work going forward.
The Highland City Council narrowly voted against supporting the festival this year, after concerns raised by councilman John Hipskind regarding the increase in funds requested by the Chamber.
Chamber director Nancie Zobrist said the increase was to allow the purchase of permanent signage that could be reused in future years, but Hipskind questioned whether the amount of the increase was necessary.
“I believe it is my job to ensure taxpayer money is being spent in a fiscally responsible manner,” Hipskind said. “I did not find the significant increase to be warranted or justified based on what was presented to me.”
But Zobist said Hipskind was looking at the advertising dollars rather than the money for the event as a whole. In years past, the city had simply given the chamber a lump sum of approximately $18,000 to $24,000 for all its tourism promotion duties, including managing the visitors’ center, answering tourism phone calls, promoting the city in tourism marketing and hosting the festival.
Additionally, Zobrist said in the past the money was allowed to be used for promoting tourism and/or for supporting and promoting the arts, both of which suited the street art festival.
“We act as a community concierge,” Zobrist said.
She said their website’s traffic is more than 50 percent unique visitors, which would indicate many people are curious about Highland rather than current residents returning.
But procedures changed this year. Zobrist said this is the first year the Chamber has had to file separate requests for individual projects, and the first year the street art festival was turned down.
In the vote, Hipskind and councilman Rick Frey voted no, and councilwomen Peggy Bellm and Sarah Sloan voted yes. Mayor Joe Michaelis broke the tie by voting no. During the discussion at the city council meeting, Hipskind suggested the Chamber should submit another request at half the proposed funding of $6,254.
But Zobrist said she does not intend to resubmit. Due to the delays in the process of requesting the funds, she said they have missed the deadline to advertise the festival in Illinois South Tourism’s fall magazine, so they will need to completely reorganize the marketing strategy and it would take too much staff time to go through another submission process.
However, the festival is going forward — at least this year.
“It’s good for Highland, our community loves the festival and it’s a fun event for people to get together,” Zobrist said.
But in the future, it will depend on how the festival goes.
“We are a nonprofit organization, but we still have to pay our bills and staff,” Zobrist said. “We will always try to promote Highland as best we can, but we are funded by business members and we need to direct our efforts for them.”
Zobrist said she believes it is “unfortunate” the city and the Chamber didn’t see eye to eye on this project.
“I hope it doesn’t negatively impact Highland as a whole – it’s a great place to be and a great place to run a business,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that the city doesn’t see the value of the street art festival.”
Hipskind said he believes the city does see its value.
“I believe we are closing own streets and providing a host of other services so it is a success,” he said. “I personally want the event to succeed.”