In the span of three days, the Sarasota Chalk Festival was declared cancelled and then appeared to be revived.
Sarasota Chalk Festival founder and Chairwoman Denise Kowal announced Monday night that a 4-1 vote by the Sarasota City Commission had potentially ruined any chance of the festival’s return for its fifth anniversary in November.
Each November, the Chalk Festival colors South Pineapple Avenue and attracts both international artists and children, who have painted the blocks of the city street since 2007. This year’s festival is scheduled to begin Nov. 1 and run for seven days.
The Sarasota City Commission voted at its Sept. 19 regular meeting to approve more stringent Community Redevelopment Agency grant guidelines.
Those guidelines, which have now been modified for the second time this year, require organizations requesting a grant to be a registered non-profit organization for two years or to partner with a non-profit that has been registered for two years.
The Chalk Festival has only been a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization for one year. Kowal was told Monday that the festival did not meet the new non-profit requirement the city now mandates for grants. Because of the new requirement, the Chalk Festival was not eligible for the Community Redevelopment Agency $25,000 grant it sought.
The move frustrated a visibly upset Kowal, who already had a letter from the city stating the grant would be issued and documentation that showed the Chalk Festival followed the grant guidelines during the seven-month permitting process. It was the latest blow for the festival, which missed out on Sarasota County funds and a $25,000 grant it requested from the Arts and Cultural Alliance because of the same issue.
“You have just made the decision to have the (Chalk Festival) canceled,” Kowal said Monday.
Further frustrating Kowal was the fact that the festival had spent $4,000 on producing certified third-party financial statements that went back at least one year after commissioners voted in August that her grant and others must include the statements.
“Now it’s been changed again seven weeks before my event,” said Kowal, noting that the $4,000 it had spent was about 5% of its entire 2010 festival budget.
Mayor Suzanne Atwell, the only commissioner to cast a dissenting vote, voiced her displeasure with how the new modification affected the Chalk Festival.
“I would like to keep the guidelines as we move forward, but, to me, it just should not include the Chalk Festival in this,” Atwell said.
The more stringent standards, city officials believe, will create fewer headaches with startup groups and allow the city to review up to two years of audited financial statements before approving grants.
“The requirement for two years (of being certified as a non-profit) is more stringent than the county or the cultural alliance, which both require just one year,” said city planner Steven Stancel.
It appears likely, however, the festival will be revived.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta told the Sarasota Observer that city staff is working with Kowal to obtain two years’ worth of audits that will suffice for the city’s requirement. Because the Chalk Festival worked with the Burns Square Property Owners Association the previous year, the city can access its financial records to obtain the second year’s documents as needed.
“If the Chalk Festival can provide those, and we think they can, then they will meet the guidelines,” Bartolotta said. “Obtaining those audits will allow them to qualify through the new standards adopted by the commission.”
Stancel said: “It’s a misconception that the Chalk Festival wouldn’t qualify for this grant.”
Kowal, meanwhile, said she and her organization will do everything they can to make sure the Chalk Festival returns for a fifth year.
“We are regrouping as quickly as we can after being thrown into what we believe was a very unnecessary tailspin by the city,” Kowal said. “I can only hope the city doesn’t decide to change the rules again on us.”
Status of 14 city-issued grants
A move by the city of Sarasota to make standards for grants more stringent have affected the following 14 grants already issued:
The following four organizations should meet all of the city’s criteria:
• The Players Theatre
• The Boys and Girls Club of Sarasota
• Sarasota YMCA
• Friends of Newtown Estates Park
The following two organizations will likely meet all of the city’s criteria:
• Children’s First (Downtown and Newtown Program)
• Sarasota Ballet
The following four organizations may meet all of the city’s criteria:
• Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
• Brotherhood of Men
• Greater Hurst Chapel
• Trinity Youth and Family Services
The following two organizations do not currently meet all of the city’s criteria:
• Sarasota Chalk Festival
• HOPE program
The following organization is not qualified for a grant:
• Sarasota Gators