Sandy Spieler is hoping to clear up some misconceptions.
Spieler, the Artistic Director of In The Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, realized there’s some confusion out there about the annual May Day Festival, which her theater organizes.
The event, which starts each year with a community parade starring large puppets, and eventually ends in Powderhorn Park with a ceremony celebrating the earth, draws as many as 50,000 people.
“Many people think that the City of Minneapolis or the Park Board sponsors the May Day Festival: that’s not true,” says Spieler. “We are the sole sponsor of May Day, so when May Day doesn’t meet it’s own budget the rest of the theater takes the hit. And in recent years new city and park regulations have meant that we actually have more expenses.”
May Day Parade
Image courtesy of In the Heart of the Beast
Spieler says the parade and festival are funded primarily out of individual donations made in the weeks leading up to the festival and on the day of the event itself. But last year the parade had to be postponed a week due to standing water in Powderhorn Park; as a result attendance was lower. The year before that the weather was frigid.
“People came but didn’t linger,” says Spieler, “and so all the ways we raise money on the day of the event just didn’t meed predictions.”
The end result is that In the Heart of the Beast is getting ready to prepare this year’s festival with a third less of the money it usually has at its disposal.
But Spieler isn’t looking for a big sponsor to come in and save the day. In fact, that’s the last thing she wants.
“The May Day parade and festival came out of the idea of a large public celebration, created by and for the people. I really believe it can be supported that way. And if everybody who came to May Day gave $5 we’d be fine, end of story.”
Some of the costs of the community event are fixed: park fees, security fees, Porta Potties, etc. That’s meant that cuts have had to come from the artistic staff.
“Last year I hired 14 artists and this year I hired 7,” Spieler explains, “and the people running the festival were cut back as well. The part I feel sad about is that I’m usually hiring intern level positions, so there’s a lot of training going on. This year instead we’re increasing the number of volunteers. We have wonderful volunteers, but we always want to be training in the next generation in order to stay sustainable.”
Spieler recently wrote an article detailing the funding challenges in the Phillips community newspaper; it was then picked up by TC Daily Planet and Southside Pride. She’s seen a few hundred dollars come in since then, but the budget for May Day totals close to $130,000. Heart of the Beast will also be sending out a mail appeal, and there will be a dinner at the start of the annual puppet-making workshops.
“When people go to a play, you pay money,” says Spieler, “and the May Day is a big theatrical event. It takes a lot of work – joyful work – to make it happen.”
This year marks the May Day Parade’s 39th year. Spieler says she hopes community support will be able to sustain it for future generations.