History festival in jeopardy

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:19 PM

The founder of the Feast of the Strawberry Moon and a former museum director both say the event is a moneymaker and has been well-attended.

The current museum director says it's losing money, attendance is slouching and it's time to re-evaluate continuing the event, which has taken place on Grand Haven's Harbor Island every June since 2001.

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum Board will meet at 7:15 p.m. Monday at the museum to discuss the fate of the fur trading-era event that is being pelted with uncertainty. Visitors should enter through the back entrance of the museum, which is located at the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and Second Street in downtown Grand Haven.

Museum Director Kenneth Pott said because the Feast has been going on for a dozen years, perhaps it is time to focus resources elsewhere.

Some fans of the fur trading period event started a Facebook page on Monday called “Friends of the Feast of the Strawberry Moon.” The page encourages people to attend Monday's meeting and voice their support of the festival.

Within 48 hours, the page had more than 200 fans. Several posters blamed Pott for attempting to shoot down the event.

Pott said the festival's fate is not his decision — it is the museum board's choice. He said there is far too much information to provide easily, but that the outcome will be based on data, statistics and the needs of the organization.

“We were involved and engaged in planning and preparing when some things changed along the way,” Pott said. “We are having to reassess. There really is too much information. Considerations are varied and they're diverse.”

Pott said there are financial and sustainability issues, as well as the organization looking at the big picture of what it can offer.

“There's the subject of declining attendance (and) we have limited resources," Pott said. "In anything like this, we have to consider all of those components.”

Pott said the museum budgeted $25,000 to host the 2013 event, up from $18,000 last year.

The museum director estimates the event loses between $1,000 and $5,000 each year.

“The event has never been a moneymaker,” Pott said. “It has always lost money. I don't consider that best policy. That has been going on for 12 years. Record keeping was perhaps not what it should be.

"The same is true with attendance figures," he added. "We're really getting a better understanding.”

Pott said if the Feast is disbanded, other themes and events could replace it. He mentioned the “rich history of agriculture” as a possible venture.

“It's a subject that engages everyone,” Pott said of agriculture. “It has a rich present and a rich future. Something like the Feast of the Strawberry Moon, with all due respect, is very focused in subject and it's been for 12 years. Do you continue to do it over and over again, or do you diversify in a way that is more inclusive of a much larger subject and a much larger audience?”

Pott promised the final decision would be well thought-out.

“The consideration is not being taken lightly,” he said. “It is not unusual for an institution to address or readdress a program of this kind. Frankly, we'd be irresponsible if we didn't.”

“It was always a moneymaker,” former museum director Dennis Swartout disputed.

Swartout said the event had a reserve fund of $10,000 to $15,000 when he retired in 2011.

“We always made several thousand dollars on the event," he said. "This is an event that really represents a significant and important part of our local history. It's a part of history that nobody is going to tell if it's allowed to pass away. I think it would be a great loss to the community.”

Robinson Township resident Ernie Marvin, who founded the Feast 12 years ago, said he received a phone call from Pott on Monday.

“He just told me it was canceled and that was the end of the conversation," Marvin said. "The next morning, he called me and said it wasn't canceled, that that was premature. It hadn't gone before the board yet.”

Marvin said it takes months to prepare for the event, and the clock is ticking.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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