Ann Arbor Summer Festival 2012 reports good attendance, no rainouts, and contribution shortfall
Jeffrey Smith | AnnArbor.com
“It’s always something - last year, I kept losing my credentials,” said Woulfe. “So (the staff) made me four sets of credentials this year. I’m like a kid with mittens.”
Such minor oversights seem easy to forgive, given how many events Woulfe plans and oversees during the three-week annual Festival, which this year included: twelve mainstage, paid-ticket events, including concert performances by Bonnie Raitt, Al Green and Rufus Wainwright; thirteen free outdoor movies; a few dozen free live music shows on two outdoor stages (The Grove and The Rackham Stage); and a variety of free community programs, ranging from yoga to a trivia contest to a dinosaur petting zoo, presented by Australia’s Erth-Visual and Physical, Inc.
“There’s nothing like watching several hundred children lose their mind when a T-Rex appears from behind a white tent,” said Woulfe.
Revenue accrued from mainstage events ($800,246 this year, up from $533,300 last year), as well as Top of the Park beverage and merchandise sales ($204,229 this year, up from $185,603 last year), was solid, but on-site donations were down, leaving A2SF with a fundraising gap to fill between now and the end of September, the end of its fiscal year.
Last year, A2SF raised $60,138 through its “Give 3” on-site campaign at TOP, but attendees reported that the fundraising seemed too invasive and “hard sell.” In response, A2SF altered its strategy and “softened” its sell this year, and contributions totaled $51,250.
“We didn't want the festival-going experience to feel like a constant pledge drive, or for guests to feel overly interrupted by the volunteer collectors, but this less amplified messaging seems to have lessened our return,” said Woulfe.
Indeed, Woulfe and his team budgeted for $65,000 in on-site contributions this year, leading to A2SF’s current $15,000 shortfall in this area. (A2SF now needs to raise a total of $45,000-$50,000 by September's end.)
“A lot of times, people have a great time at the Festival and generously send a donation afterward,” said Woulfe. “ So I’m not overly concerned, but it’s important that those gifts come in.”
The mainstage series had three sellout events (Ira Glass, Pilobolus, and The Moth Mainstage), but others underperformed.
Nellie McKay was new to the Festival, and sold “more seats than we thought she would,” said Woulfe. “But when you put an intimate jazz cabaret artist in a big venue, that can be challenging. And Cinematic Titanic - when we had them before, they sold out two shows, and that didn't happen this time around. But the 4th being in the middle of the week affected things in strange ways. On the 4th we had huge crowds at Top of the Park, but some indoor events around that time frame didn’t fare as well. So that was a little bit surprising.”
Of course, A2SF also contended with thirteen days of ninety-plus degree temperatures (four of which reached more than 100 degrees).
Even so, “I will take the heat over the rain any day,” said Woulfe. “ The good thing about heat is people can always find a place under the trees have a drink. And we had zero rainouts. Yes, there were some sunshowers, five or ten minute rainshowers, but all the bands got up, and all the movies got up. Usually we have two to three full rainouts.”
So although the extreme temperatures may have kept some people away in the fest’s final days, turnouts were high during A2SF’s first two weeks, and Woulfe generally feels satisfied and happy with the way things unfolded. (You can see local photographer Myra Klarman's photos from this year's A2SF here.)
Not that Woulfe’s relaxing too much. Now’s the time when he and his team look at the numbers, read the feedback, raise money, and begin planning for next year.
“The biggest challenge for us is that people think that the season’s over, and that it was so successful that they don’t need to give, but fundraising is ongoing always,” said Woulfe. “We hope that if people had a good time, they’ll show their support.”