The board of Chichester’s collapsed Festivities has come under fierce attack for its handling of the sad demise of the summer arts festival.
Creditors at a meeting in Chichester complained of unanswered emails, unanswered phones and unanswered faxes following the cancellation of the Festivities fireworks finale in July.
John Coldstream, who has hosted/chaired a number of Festivities events in recent years, cited an opinion piece in the Chichester Observer which had criticised the Festivities board for its refusal to speak to anyone.
“The idea of the goodwill that has been squandered by the way that this matter has been handled is terrifying,” Mr Coldstream said. “It is not just a personal disaster (for the Festivities), but a real catastrophe as far as its relationship with Chichester in general is concerned.”
Mr Coldstream challenged Festivities chairman Ian Farman as to whether he had any regrets over the way the matter had been dealt with.
“Of course the chairman has regrets,” Mr Farman said. “Hindsight is always a marvellous thing. Nobody on this board had gone through this process before, and the board had to work entirely within the context of professional advice, and the professional advice was that we had to deal with the creditors’ situation.”
He said it would have been wrong to give information to people other than the creditors before giving the creditors the full situation. “That came across as being silent. That may have come across as being secretive. But it was extremely difficult for the board under these conditions of insolvency to go out and make a big noise.”
Chichester Festivities accountant Geoffrey Simmonds said the board should have realised that many of the competing events – Olympics, Diamond Jubilee etc – which made this year so difficult would not be around next year: “Perhaps if the Festivities had organised a stay of execution, people would have had more disposable income next year,” he argued.
Mr Farman, however, confirmed after losses in the four years up to and including 2011 of £156,000, the Festivities board decided in late 2011 that unless the festival broke even in 2012, Chichester Festivities would have to be wound up at the end of 2012.
In the event, audience numbers declined still further in 2012, due in part to the economic situation and other conflicting national and international events, as well as a programme of concerts and talks which did not attract sufficient support from the local community. Even without the fireworks disaster, the festivities would still have made a substantial loss.
As for attracting other sources of income, Mr Farman said the Festivities were hampered in sponsorship terms by the fact that it was present effectively for only three to four weeks a year: “There are a whole lot of other festivals out there, and the competition has hotted up considerably.”
Edith Rogerson, wife of Festivities artistic director Paul Rogerson, said the Festivities should have appealed to the public for help: “There are so many letters saying ‘If only we had known!’ What I find really really worrying is that you feared the response because you wanted to close down the Chichester Festivities.”
Mr Farman replied: “I would certainly deny that. There was no intention on the part of the board to deny Chichester the Chichester Festivities. But the board has to act in a financially sensible way.”
After the cancellation of the fireworks concert, the Festivities’ role changed overnight, Mr Farman said. The responsibility was to protect the creditors as much as possible.
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