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Quad Squad Fundraises Like Mad for Its French-Flavored Fest

State of the Arts


Published May 6, 2009 at 11:49 a.m.

If Samuel de Champlain could magically reappear in Burlington this summer, the Frenchman would be stunned to witness the festivities taking place in his honor, four centuries after he first sailed the lake that now bears his name. The Burlington International Waterfront Festival — aka the Champlain 400, aka the Quadricentennial, or just “the Quad” — is the most ambitious collection of goings-on in Vermont since … well, maybe ever. July 2 to 14 will be stuffed with a multicultural, international panoply of entertainments — music, dance, visual and culinary arts, film, theater, a parade, history symposia, workshops, kids’ camps, even an “Iroquois Lacrosse Weekend.” Not to mention the Fourth of July and Bastille Day. Just reading the schedule requires an espresso or two. And make that French roast.

Vermont, New York, Québec and, yes, France come together for the festival that is being produced by Jay Craven and Burlington City Arts. The event was conceived well before the current economic downturn, and it continues to grow — rockers Ween were added to the lineup just this week. The concert series showcases some serious star power, notably crooner Tony Bennett. French-Algerian choreographer Heddy Maalem was commissioned to create an original work for the Quad, which Craven considers a “defining event”; that Flynn performance won’t cost dance fans a dime.

So who’s paying for all this? Ticket sales alone can’t cover the costs, even if all of them are sold — including two levels of VIP passes, at $1000 and $400. A huge number of events are gratis to the public. But, as Craven points out, the performers still need to be paid, and the nonlocal ones have to be housed, too.

Not surprisingly, festival finances are complicated. Québec committed $100,000 to bring its artists to the fest — including The Lost Fingers and the Cowboys Fringants, who are hot north of the border but virtually unknown here. The State of Vermont’s tourism and marketing department put up a more modest $65,000 last summer, Craven reveals, to help establish a Burlington office. “They provided some additional assistance for graphic design,” he notes, “although we are paying now.”

It’s a long way from this “seed money” to the million or so Craven says is needed to produce the Quad ($1.5 mil would be ideal, he specifies). To date, the coffers hold a rather impressive $720,000, thanks to massive, ongoing fundraising efforts; that’s the sum of government contributions and others cajoled from individual and corporate donors. Craven doesn’t expect any more money from the cash-strapped State of Vermont — “though we’re in conversations with [Sen.] Leahy’s office, because there are some programs about the lake and Native Americans that can qualify for national funding,” he says.

While Craven admits he had not wanted his producer role to entail fundraising, he seems resigned to that inevitability. “In the initial communications, the state was going to raise $13 million for the Quad. That effort did not succeed,” he says diplomatically. “There was a point in time where the City of Burlington committed to making it happen … Clearly there would have to be a substantial amount of fundraising,” Craven adds. “The job is not yet done.”

A longtime arts administrator (at St. Johnsbury’s Catamount Arts, which he founded) and independent filmmaker, Craven is certainly no novice at scaring up money. The Barnet resident — and major multitasker — continues to teach at Marlboro College; he’s currently overseeing 46 students one long day a week and spending four days in Burlington on the Quad. Oh, and he’s writing and planning a new episode of the “Queen City Radio Hour,” a special “all-star” edition featuring humorist Tom Bodett and Americana faves The Horse Flies. Somehow Craven squeezed in a conference on international cultural exchange in Florida last weekend.

Why is the Quad so sprawling? “There was a question early on: Should we focus on that one weekend?” Craven says. “The city clearly felt the longer festival would heighten the activity, bring in more visitors.” But the festival “doesn’t go on all cylinders every day,” he points out. “It builds toward the second weekend.”

A unique French event — Aurelia’s Oratorio, directed by Victoria Chaplin (daughter of Charlie and Oona) — was available only on the second weekend, July 13 and 14. The theatrical circus “approximates a dreamscape,” Craven says. “To me, it’s entirely appropriate for this event. Champlain went by his dreams; it was crucial to lake expedition.” The Aurelia staging could also help the Quad go out with a Bastille bang. July 14, incidentally, was the day Champlain actually arrived at the lake.

When it comes to potential revenue from the festival, Craven expresses cautious optimism. “The city considers this a good investment for local business,” he says carefully. “Burlington is unique in New England in terms of funding it makes to the arts. My job is to demonstrate it’s worthwhile.”