Jun 9, 2024 - News

Festival organizers trying to attract more suggested donations

Photo of people dancing on a street

Families enjoy Nordic fun at Midsommarfest. Photo courtesy of Timmy Samuel of Starbelly Studios

Local festival organizers are urging fairgoers to think twice before breezing through street fest gates this summer without paying — even though they can, because festivals can't charge for entry to a public street.

Why it matters: Donations at many festivals plummeted last year, according to a coalition of neighborhood chambers of commerce that produce several prominent fests.

  • This lost revenue, they say, hurts their ability to assist local businesses and host neighborhood programming.

Driving the news: In the hope of changing the trend, the coalition released an Instagram reel this month explaining why those $10 suggested donations are important to community programs.

The big picture: Chicago enjoys one of the dopest summer festival lineups in the nation, but some events could be cut or scaled back if "suggested donation" rates continue to fall.

Zoom in: Fewer than 50% of folks attending Andersonville's Midsommar Fest last year paid to get in, according to Charlie Wein of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce.

What they're saying: "We use that money to pay for everything from our performers and artists to activities and security," Wein tells Axios. "So if people don't donate, the festival doesn't happen."

  • He says 80% of the Andersonville chamber's operating budget comes from Midsommarfest.

Driving the drop: Wein attributes low payment rates last summer to a combination of inflation fatigue, TikTok videos reminding Chicagoans that gate fees on public streets are optional, and anger due to coverage of deceptive practices at some fests.

Yes but: Wein believes that coverage, and especially the deluge of social media comments that followed, spread misinformation that resulted in people misjudging the festivals.

Yes but but: It's easy to see why some of last year's complaints prompted a backlash. Angry fairgoers said they were misled by third-party sites that "sold" tickets, and they accused Star Events, the contractor for several festivals, of failing to make it clear (until people complained) that admission fees are optional.

  • Wein says they are not working with the company this year.

What's next: To learn more about how specific donation dollars are used this summer, festival goers should talk to folks at the front table or chamber of commerce tables, Wein says.

  • His Midsommarfest, which continues today, will feature signage, QR codes and more to help attendees get a clearer picture of how the funds are used.
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