MNA survey wonders aloud if Orton Park Fest should change locations
The Marquette Neighborhood Association is seeking input from residents through a survey, regarding the scope of their two sponsored neighborhood gatherings: The Orton Park and Marquette Waterfront Festivals. The events are a major city-wide and regional draw and provide a majority of the operating funds for MNA’s other activities. However debate has simmered in recent years about whether they are most effective in their current form and location
While it seems unbelievable to hold the Orton Park Festival somewhere else, the event is bursting at it’s seams. Central Park is now finally taking shape and some have suggested large neighborhood events like OPF and La Fete de Marquette should be held at that location, just like La Fete was during its first years.
The survey, which is part of a slate of recommendations the MNA Board has been implementing, is being conducted by the Festivals and Fundraising Committee in concert with a community meeting to be held at 7 p.m. on January 13 at Wil-Mar Center. Input from the survey and the meeting will guide recommendations the committee will present to the MNA Board at its meeting on January 16. The survey will remain open throughout the process but the most weight will be given to responses received by the end of Friday January 10.
In the past several years the size, length, and complexity of the events have been called into question by some residents, especially those who border Yahara Place Park where the Waterfront Festival is held and Orton Park for the OPF.
Of biggest concern is the impact the events have on the land and the foliage in the parks. Second of course is the noise, since each event features a large music stage with musical line-ups that have, at times, stretched for 10 hours for multiple days.
“We’ve been working really in earnest the last couple years on getting a better handle on every element of the two festivals,” MNA board president Michael Jacob told The Capital Times.
However, the amazing decades-long run of these festivals could be in peril as MNA worries about a brain drain within the organization in regards to festival management. Uber MNA festival guru Bob Queen, who revived the Orton Park Fest and created Waterfront retired from his volunteer role after 2012. In April of last year Ralph Kuehn was appointed to fill the OPF management role with Bob Queen continuing to coordinate the musical acts.
Kuehn made incremental changes to the Orton Park event which impressed the neighbors. MNA Board Member Truly Remarkable Loon is an Orton neighbor and has been a frequent critic of aspects of the OPF. He remarked at the November Board Meeting that neighbors along the park edge have noted improvements, especially in the responsiveness of MNA to their concerns.
But a more sinister problem lies beneath: a lack of institutional knowledge of how these events are run. One tragedy, a personal conflict, or as in Queen’s case, volunteer fatigue could leave MNA struggling to conduct a major fundraising event effectively.
Additionally, each of MNA’s festivals gross nearly $100,000 each year and the organization has been fortunate that up until this point all of its key volunteers have not either accidentally or intentionally mishandled these funds.
Keuhn made many of these observations last fall when he proposed at the November Board meeting a new charter for the Festivals committee which formalizes many of the changes implemented during OPF:
- Remake the festival committee
- Develop specific festival budgets
- Identify individuals for key positions
- Set guidelines for key pieces of infrastructure (implemented)
- Develop policies for money handling so that funds can be traced
The Board approved the charter with minor edits.
Also proposed was to split the finance aspect of the Finance, Festivals, and Fundraising Committee into its own entity, as festival finances are just one aspect of its purview. At the November meeting the Board voted to create a Finance Committee and appointed MNA Board Member Jatinder Cheema as chairwoman.