After several years of financial troubles, the nonprofit that produces the Houston International Festival will file for federal bankruptcy protection this week, according to a report in today's Houston Chronicle that claims spending has begun to exceed income by as much as $250,000 a year and has led to debts of more than $1 million.
The article cited a statement from the board of directors of the Houston Festival Foundation, which said, "Over the past few years, the Foundation has sold all of its assets to pay its bills and has no assets left at this time. The hope had been that this year's festival would have provided some profit to begin to pay off some debt, but that did not happen."
Struggling to compete against a growing number of similar festivals and events over the years, many of which have borrowed a page or two of its blueprint, iFest has attempted to stanch its financial hemorrhaging by laying off staff, shifting other workers to contract labor, changing offices and other means of downsizing, the article said.
After 2012, the foundation stopped producing the city's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade, which had been costing it hundreds of thousands of dollars a year since around the turn of the decade. The City of Houston assumed the cost of the parade last year.
"As a nonprofit, what business is it of ours producing free events that we can't afford?" the foundation's president, Kim Stoilis, told Rocks Off in April.
Organizers were hopeful that the completed renovations to Sam Houston Park would help increase attendance this year, but it wasn't enough. The foundation's difficulties also made it tougher for iFest to book competitive musical talent, further hampering attendance.
According to the article, the two-weekend event drew around 100,000 people to the streets around City Hall, down from an all-time high of more than 200,000. Many people this year attended through heavily discounted tickets, it added.
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iFest's origins date back to 1971. The Houston Festival Foundation has been producing the event since 1987, when its name officially became the Houston International Festival. A statement from Mayor Annise Parker's office sought to remind Houstonians of iFest and the foundation's role in the city's cultural development over the past several decades.
"This is an organization that has provided wonderful entertainment and cultural offerings that have been enjoyed by thousands of Houstonians and visitors for many years," it read. "While there have been financial struggles in recent years, it is important to remember what they've built."
No one in the article would speculate on whether or not there will be an iFest, or something resembling it, in 2015.
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