Volunteers board Army Corps of Engineer boats at Alton’s public dock for the Mississippi Earthtones Festival river cleanup.
The Mississippi Earthtones Festival will be relocated for its ninth year after organizers and the Alton Amphitheater Commission were unable to reach an agreement.
Both Alton Main Street and the Amphitheater Commission issued statements on the relocation Friday.
Alton Main Street statement
The concept for the festival was conceived through a partnership between Alton Main Street and the Sierra Club, and the duo has co-presented the event since 2007. A consortium of organizations has collaborated on the event’s planning committee over the years. The group will convene to review its options, and partner organizations will weigh in on the future home of the festival.
If it is determined that the event will be moving to a different community, Alton Main Street would step down as the fiscal agent and pass the responsibility of licensing, liability insurance and other matters to another entity.
“It doesn’t make sense for our organization to remain involved if the event is not fulfilling our purpose to generate economic and social activity in Downtown Alton,” Alton Main Street Executive Director Sara McGibany said. “It would be unfortunate for Alton’s riverfront to lose this special occasion, but numerous organizations have built this event together so a change of this magnitude should be a group decision.”
A number of venues have expressed interest in hosting the festival in recent years, so the committee will spend the next 30 days investigating alternatives. The group will entertain proposals from potential host venues or communities and welcomes suggestions from the public at www.facebook.com/EarthtonesFestival.
The festival is a celebration of rivers through art, music, and conservation, held annually on the third Saturday in September as part of the state of Illinois’ “It’s Our River Day” initiative. Past highlights have included a 4,000-gallon mobile educational aquarium; a Riverbend Catfish Tournament; demonstrations from The Saint Louis Science Center; art sculptures made from trash found during the river cleanup, nature photography contests, plein air artists painting live on the festival grounds, upcycled arts-and-crafts projects, solar-power experiments, entertainment from local musicians, and the Confluence Conservation Leadership Awards, which have been accepted on the festival stage by notable winners such as state Rep. Dan Beiser and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
The event has grown to more than 50 exhibits, and many area nature-based and environmental organizations attend the festival every year to promote their activities and teach festival-goers about native ecology. Local businesses set up informational booths to tout their environmentally conscious products and services, while educating the public on how they can incorporate more sustainable practices into their daily lives. All participating organizations and companies are asked to reserve the date of Sept. 19; registration information will be forthcoming as soon as the location of the 2015 festival is determined.
The river cleanup scheduled that morning will continue as planned, using grant funds received from the Environmental Protection Agency. Nineteen tons of trash has been removed from the Mississippi River during the festival cleanups.
At the mayor’s request, citizens who care to voice their opinion on the matter are welcome to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 463-3500, ext. 3, as well as Brett Stawar, president of the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, who is also a member of the Amphitheater Commission, at email@example.com or (618) 465-6676.
Amphitheater Commission statement
The Alton Amphitheater Commission has a fiscal responsibility to the city and to taxpayers to make sure all events held at the Liberty Bank Amphitheater are fun, safe and fiscally responsible.
The commission supports the mission of the Earthtones Festival. However, the commission cannot completely ignore its policies, waive existing contracts or allow one nonprofit organization to have special pricing that is not offered to all nonprofit organizations wishing to use the amphitheater.
Contrary to information currently being disseminated, the Alton Amphitheater Commission did not refuse to allow organizers to hold the Mississippi Earthtones Festival at the amphitheater. Festival organizers requested a waiver of the normal rental fee, a $1,000 donation from the commission, a waiver of existing contractual obligations as well as full control for alcohol sales, among other demands. The commission in turn agreed to waive the fee normally charged other non-profit organizations in an effort to work with organizers of the event.
“After receiving a demand letter from Alton Main Street on behalf of the Earthtones organization, the Amphitheater Commission offered them very favorable terms, which they unfortunately declined,” said Tom Hawkins, Amphitheater Commission Chairman.
“We have been in support of waiving the fee for the Earthtones event, but not to the point of giving them a better deal than we would offer to Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Senior Services Plus or any of the other non-profits that use the facility. We are disappointed they have chosen to move their event rather than work with the Commission to keep the event on the Alton Riverfront,” said Robert Stephan, commission member.
Given the fiscal crisis facing the city because of the governor’s budget cuts, the commission cannot offer a special deal to any event organizer that would result in extra costs to the commission and the city. Further, the commission itself receives no city funding — it is tasked with raising funds through sponsorships.
“As a commission, we have a responsibility to taxpayers and sponsors to run the facility in a responsible manner,” Commissioner Judy Egelhoff said. "We have worked hard to keep this event at the amphitheater and offered good terms to do so. While we are disappointed Earthtones has chosen to move to another location, ultimately it is not the responsibility of the commission to make sure those who wish to use the facility are able to break even or make a profit.”