Frontyard Festival may goon—if $1M is found
The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts would like to extend its Frontyard Festival until the end of the year — and a promise of up to $500,000, approved by Orlando City Council this week, will go a long way toward doing that.
But the center says without an additional $1 million in sponsorship, it doesn’t make financial sense to continue the outdoor lineup of concerts, movies and more — even though the community has responded with gusto to the ongoing event.
“Considering the response from artists, guests, sponsors and our colleagues, we know there’s significant interest in keeping the festival active in the months to come,” Kathy Ramsberger, the downtown Orlando arts center’s president, wrote in a statement.
More than 33,000 guests have
attended a Frontyard Festival performance, according to center officials, while more than 2,000 performers and crew members have been hired for roughly 200 shows. In addition, more than 250 complimentary guest “boxes” have been used for educational and community outreach.
But all of that comes at a cost: The arts center pays monthly rental costs for the scaffolding that creates the physically distanced outdoor audience boxes that cover the Seneff Arts Plaza as well as technical equipment, such as light and soundboards, that allows shows to be staged there.
Other infrastructure costs go toward the outdoor restaurants and restrooms that provide patron amenities. And there are ongoing labor costs associated with the festival, as well.
Hard hit by the coronavirus and ensuing shutdown, the arts center furloughed half its full-time staff and all part-time employees in June. Since then, the Frontyard Festival has allowed 19 full-time and 58 part-time workers to return, a center spokeswoman said.
That was in keeping with the mission of the festival, which was not intended to be a moneymaker.
“The festival was not about earning money for the center, as we knew the cost to operate it would put us in a break-even position,” said spokeswoman Lorri Shaban. “Instead, our focus was on the spirit of the project to bring people and artists together again safely, and put people back to work, including artists, crews and local musicians.”
While the center has hosted a few indoor events — most notably performances by Orlando Ballet and Opera Orlando in its Walt Disney Theater — the bulk of activity at the building during the past year has been outdoors at the festival. It began in December 2020 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, with support from big names, such as Disney, Fairwinds, Florida Blue, Massey Services, Pepsi and presenting sponsor AdventHealth.
Talks on raising the additional $1 million needed to extend the festival are taking place with current sponsors and others, Ramsberger said in her statement.
The Frontyard Festival has done more than give work to entertainment-industry professionals who have struggled throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Artistically, it has provided a venue for Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra concerts and an upcoming Bach Festival Society performance. The festival hosted Martin Luther King Jr. celebratory events, and it meant the UCF Celebrates the Arts festival could take place this spring. It has even given birth to new initiatives, such as weekly brunch concerts.
On Friday, the Bethune-Cookman University Concert Chorale kicked off the festival’s new Freedom Series, which celebrates Black artists. Future Freedom Series programs include an April 30 performance by the “Elvis of Gospel” Tye Tribbett and a May 21 concert by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Septet titled “The Sounds of Democracy.”
In approving the request for additional funding, which would come through the Downtown Development Board/Community Redevelopment Agency, City Commissioner Regina Hill praised Ramsberger and her team for their multicultural approach to programming the festival.
“The inclusion she has had in the process is to be commended,” Hill said at the City Council meeting.
The festival also earned praise from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.
“People across America have traveled here to look at it and seek to replicate it, and it’s been hugely successful,” he said. “The cool thing is the different … genres of music and different types of events they’ve been able to host there.”
Ramsberger said the center would likely know by mid-May if enough additional sponsorship could be found to keep the festival going.