The Santa Fe 400th Anniversary website confirms that the kickoff event to its 16-month-long commem-oration was a resounding success. In fact, pictures of the more than 20,000 visitors will be posted shortly! Problem is, the kickoff event was the first weekend in September. Not only are there still no pictures on the website, but there’s no money in the coffers.
Viva! Santa Fe, the September kickoff event, cost $287,000 to produce and was expected to generate revenue for 400th Anniversary, Inc., the nonprofit that contracted with the city to facilitate Santa Fe’s weighty birthday. The event was good old-fashioned family fun for lots of locals but, in the end, it lost approximately $42,000. The loss left the nonprofit struggling for liquidity—understandable, given the state of the economy. But less understandable, given the $1.5 million in lodgers tax revenue and state funding with which it had started.
It turns out one of 400th’s ways to honor the traditional practices of northern New Mexico was through gross mismanagement of public funds. Executive Director Libby Dover was being paid $10,000 a month. Five other employees also pulled above-average salaries. In addition, huge contracts with marketing and fundraising companies apparently failed to pay off.
Unable to address the budgetary shortfall with a slate of commemorative products, the nonprofit responded by axing its overpriced executive director, cancelling several contracts and trimming its workforce. 400th Anniversary Committee Chairman Maurice Bonal tells SFR the group will request a $750,000 infusion from the likewise cash-strapped City of Santa Fe, after revising its “total finance package” for 2010. The total planned 400th anniversary budget was originally said to be $11 million before being trimmed to $7 million and, more recently, $3 million.
Even if city councilors find a bag of money buried under City Hall, however, there are reservations about further funding the troubled nonprofit. The City Council tabled proposals to grant additional funds in both October and December.
Santa Fe Mayor David Coss remains hopeful that the event will finish as a success.
“2009 was a hard year for the US economy and the Santa Fe economy, yet the 400th committee and this community put together a meaningful and beautiful event, Viva! Santa Fe, that made us all proud,” Coss says. “I am looking forward to more special commemorative events in 2010.” He adds that the city was honored by a visit from Spain’s royal family as part of the commemoration.
Bonal is well-aware that some of the 400th committee’s big plans haven’t exactly panned out and says a new game plan is unfolding for 2010.
“We hope to collaborate with a lot of Santa Fe’s existing organizations and have their signature events also be 400th anniversary events,” Bonal says. He cites Indian Market, the International Folk Art Market, Fiesta, 4th of July and events at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum as ripe for possible collaborations. “They’re looking for help; we’re looking for help,” Bonal says. “It’s a tough economy and it’s going to be a time for collaboration.”
Some might call it branding on the backs of others, but it also might be a better way to celebrate Santa Fe: by honoring the hard work of the city’s existing organizations.
Such a move may motivate citizens who are coming out of the woodwork wanting to help turn mud into adobe. Scott Hutton, owner of Hutton Broadcasting, LLC and local radio magnate isn’t happy with what’s happened so far, but thinks the event might still be turned around. “I wish things had gone better and I want to help make the 400th celebration a worthwhile anniversary,” Hutton says.