By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published June 23, 2020
FARMINGTON/HILLS — By this point in the summer, community members would have perused through almost 100 arts and craft vendors at the 11th annual Art on the Grand fair. Summer concerts series — Stars in the Park, Rhythms in Riley Park and Lunchbeats — would have been entertaining live music lovers Wednesday afternoons, and Thursday and Friday nights.
Not this year, as these events were canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“We just couldn’t, in good faith, bring 600 people to assemble and assume we can do crowd control and social distancing,” Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority Director Kate Knight said.
With over 40,000 people estimated to attend Art on the Grand yearly and about 5,000 people heading to Heritage Park over the nine-week Stars in the Park concert series, these events followed suit.
As the community is left with little to no summer programming, what are the economic, social and cultural implications of having to cancel these events?
More indirect economic impacts than direct
Due to these community events being largely funded by sponsors and partnerships, both Farmington Hills Cultural Arts Director Rachel Timlin and Knight said the cities won’t be too financially hurt by having to cancel.
“They’re kind of a wash, these particular events,” Timlin said. “We actually have more of an impact cancelling most of our summer camps.”
Stars in the Park is funded through a $12,000 Mercedes-Benz sponsorship each year, which Timlin said is stretched across paying the musicians and sound technicians. There is zero revenue produced and zero hard expenses.
While the Farmington Hills Special Services Department does receive normally $31,000 of revenue in artist booth fees, all that money was refunded to artists this year. Due to cancelling early, the city was able to save about $6,000 in hard expenses from not pursuing promotional material, road closure signs, security and more.
“As far as from the city’s standpoint, (these events) are not designed to produce revenue for the city,” Timlin said. “It’s designed to be a service to our residents, artists and businesses. We cover our costs for that.”
With Rhythms in Riley Park and Lunchbeats funded entirely by sponsorships, those event cancellations won’t impact the DDA economically. Knight anticipates strong interest from sponsors to return to these events in whatever capacity they’re brought back.
The economic impact of these events are felt in more indirect ways, Knight and Timlin said.
“Certainly, this is a blow to the restaurants and retailers who depend on that extra surge of foot traffic as we’re opening up our warm summer months,” Knight said. “The loss of vibrancy and street activity, we will definitely miss that.”
Timlin added that the loss of revenue generated by 40,000 people visiting downtown Farmington during Art on the Grand is “incalculable.” She estimates that, based on artist surveys from previous years, there will be a loss of between $200,000 and $500,000 of artwork sales from the fair weekend.
Cultural impacts aren’t measurable but are still felt
Oftentimes, municipal summer events aren’t hosted as a means to cash grab, but to provide a sense of place and community for those living there. The greater impact Knight and Timlin see arising from these cancellations are in the social and cultural departments.
“For Art on the Grand, especially, it’s such a big promotional event for the cities in general. A lot of the out-of-state artists come to Michigan just for that art fair,” Timlin said. “It’s so hard to measure those losses, but I know we’re going to feel them soon.”
She added that, while the community may miss the events this year, she thinks that may cause an even greater appreciation for them when they return.
Knight believes these events are a crucial aspect of the community and part of people’s quality of life.
“These events are a huge benefit,” she said. “There’s a direct correlation between your schools, your vibrancy downtown and the value of your home. … We know there’s a big demand for being in the heart of it.”
Knowing the potential social and cultural losses at risk from these cancellations, both Knight and Timlin are eager to host these events again next summer, as well as to find ways to provide some semblance of their offerings on a smaller scale until then.
“Of course, our ultimate goal is to gather the way we always have. We know that everyone has a need to be together and mingle on summer nights in downtown Farmington,” Knight said. “As soon as we can, we will.”
Moving forward and adapting plans
While Timlin and Knight work to return these events true to form, they’ve also been thinking creatively about how they can provide community gatherings for the cities’ residents.
Knight said she’s certainly eager to bring live music back to downtown Farmington in some capacity, but currently, her priorities are set in trying to help the city’s businesses to get back up and running. She said any time the DDA has gained from not preparing for these events has been backfilled with tasks to support the city’s business community during the pandemic.
“If we have an opportunity to bring back some element of live music programming this summer, we would certainly consider it,” she said. “All of the programming we do is a pretty big benefit to the community at large, but our focus is specifically on supporting our downtown businesses community. … We would try to focus on one of our downtown businesses as a vendor or primary operator, and who knows? Maybe that’s something where we can fit in a little live music here and there. We’re certainly open to that.”
As the DDA begins to help businesses within the city apply and establish expanded outdoor seating and sales, Knight said patrons could possibly see some live music or entertainment complement that.
Knight said the idea for a beer garden, which was to run concurrently with Rhythms in Riley Park, isn’t entirely off the table for this summer yet, either, though it will depend on what’s left in the budget after helping businesses.
Timlin sits in a similar boat, with her priorities stretched further because of the pandemic. Timlin is working to adapt all of her current programming, like summer camps, on top of brainstorming new ideas and trying to stay on schedule with The Hawk opening.
“We’ve thrown out the idea of mobile concerts, or small solo concerts outside. … We’re not short of any ideas; we’re just short of the resources right now to pull it off.”
Timlin said her department is also floating the idea of trying to host an online art fair in the fall for the Art on the Grand artists, though the idea is not concrete yet.
Both Timlin and Knight feel they’ll be in better positions to move forward with some ideas by the end of summer or during the fall.
Timlin remains optimistic that some of the most brilliant ideas come out of tough situations. “We’re going to come up with something,” she said.
Knight, too, believes that once events are announced, people will come.
“We know that, as soon as we can resume being together, we will. If we can create opportunities for outdoor use, we believe people will venture out,” she said. “We’ll certainly have to do things differently, but we’re hopeful. … Stay tuned. We’ll figure something out by the end of summer.”