As the fallout settles from the decision by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County to cancel three main street festivals and an annual ball that dates back nearly 50 years, the nonprofit’s CEO said she is trying to focus on what can be controlled and not on what can’t be helped.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of the 37th annual Main Street Festival scheduled for July 18-19, the 37th annual Pumpkinfest scheduled for Oct. 24, and the 36th annual Dickens of a Christmas scheduled for Dec. 12-13, as well as the 47th annual Heritage Ball scheduled for Oct. 3.
The events have been mainstays for the Heritage Foundation, both culturally and financially, and their absence through the rest of this year undoubtedly stings. From a money standpoint, the four events accounted for about $1.5 million to the nonprofit last year. The Heritage Ball, its largest fundraiser, pulled in close to $350,000.
“It’s a significant loss to our organization that these events won’t be happening this year,” said Bari Beasley, who has been the Heritage Foundation’s CEO since May 2017.
In addition to the loss of revenue, the nonprofit has had to reduce its staff by about 40%.
“We’re very dependent on the events for our year-to-year operational budget, so not having these events is really difficult for the organization. We want to be here another 50 years, continuing to bring great things to this community. So like never before, for the rest of 2020 I feel like we’re going to be very dependent on the community helping us with gifts of any size.”
Beasley said her team is looking at ways to hold fundraisers through the rest of the year. It will hold an online auction at the time the Heritage Ball would have been held, and the Foundation will attempt to expand its Leadership Society that is made up of donors who contribute at least $1,000 annually.
“We would love for anybody interested in participating [in the Leadership Society] to support our operational budget,” Beasley said. “But every single dollar counts when you’re a nonprofit, so any gift of any size is such a value to us.”
Also going dark this year is the Franklin Theatre, a division of the Heritage Foundation that has postponed or canceled all remaining programming, including movies, private events and live programming. This also includes postponement of the new live performance series scheduled to launch this fall. All employees at the theater have been furloughed with the exception of its executive director, Paul Couch.
The Downtown Franklin Association is also a division of the Heritage Foundation, and Beasley said concentration on helping downtown merchants has been heightened.
“Jill [Burgin, executive director] is hard at work in promoting all the downtown businesses and finding other ways we can plug in and be supportive,” Beasley said. “I would say that since [Wednesday’s] announcement [of the cancellations], everything is more focused for the Heritage Foundation for the rest of this year, and there are some areas where we will be specifically focused.
“Typically we’re working all year around on events, but because we don’t have any events now, we’re hyper-focused on our advocacy, preservation and education piece of our work.”
Despite the setback of losing three main street festivals and the fundraising power of an event like the Heritage Ball, Beasley said she is all the more determined to ensure a brighter 2021.
“I want next year to be a year of absolute celebration, and bigger and better festivals than we’ve ever had before, as well as with the Heritage Ball,” Beasley said. “I just can’t wait to make that happen. We’re just as motivated, just as excited about the future as we’ve ever been, … and we think there will be new opportunities for visitors to come and learn about what Franklin has to offer.
“Our work is still exciting and necessary, and we’ll just keep moving forward.”