After two consecutive years of rain caused financial losses and forced the cancellation of the 2012 edition, the International Accordion Festival returns for the 12th time this weekend at La Villita. The weather forecast? Looking good so far.
“I go by the [Old] Farmer’s Almanac, believe it or not,” Gwen Rivera, the festival’s production coordinator, told the Current. “It’s very accurate, science that works, and they say it shouldn’t rain on those days.” (She was right about the Farmer's Almanac, but on Tuesday Yahoo! Weather predicted rain for Sunday).
That’s good news, but the rain was only part of the problems the festival has been dealing with in the last few years. Soon after the economic downturn in 2008, Southwest Airlines stopped providing the festival with plane tickets for the performers; in 2011, then-Congressman Jeff Flake (R-Arizona, now a senator) told the National Endowment for the Arts that giving support to groups like the IAF is “a bit tough to justify,” and the NEA cut funding to the festival from $35,000 to $30,000. The rain in 2010 and 2011 kept people away and made vendor sales difficult. Coupled with what the IAF describes as an “unwillingness” on the part of the City to go the extra mile for the Festival, the organizers decided to take a break in 2012 and come back stronger this year, using the $30,000 allocated to them by the Department for Culture & Creative Development (formerly known as Office of Cultural Affairs) in 2012.
“[Not bringing the festival back is] a concern every year,” said Cathy Ragland, the Festival’s curator. “We have to jump through a lot of hoops and we have to really beg for just the very little that we get.”
“We would always love for the City to do more for us, but… they didn’t [in 2012],” said Pat Jasper, a member of the Festival’s Board of Directors and its director until last year.
The free festival—which attracts up to 25,000 attendees a year—is a low-budget but high-quality meeting of some of the greatest accordion musicians in the world. In previous years, people like Grammy-nominated Argentine chamamé master Chango Spasiuk shared the stage with locals like Piñata Protest, Louisiana’s Buckwheat Zydeco, tango from Argentina, reed-based music from China and many more from all over the world. It is an eclectic event full of virtuoso performances. In addition to the performances, free accordion workshops take place throughout the weekend.
In spite of the obvious tension, a spokesman for the City expressed his office’s full support of the event.
“Once the Festival goes through the process and is awarded [its funding], the City can’t offer anything other than [that],” Frank Villani, DCCD’s Cultural Affairs Manager, told the Current. “If it’s at our building we can give you free rent, but we can’t offer any more money because that was the approval by the city public panels and city council.”
Jasper countered, “We weren’t asking for more dollars—we were asking for more help,” referring to the bureaucratic process she said the Festival has to go through year after year.
In 2013, the City transferred management of La Villita, Market Square and the Spanish Governor’s Palace to the DCCD. “Now we’re overseeing all that, our job is to bring in more cultural events and, in that respect, we can try to help out the [IAF],” said Villani.
But is the IAF on any sort of probation? The City’s financial help is tied to the Festival’s ability to match or exceed whatever funds they receive. In that sense, Villani says the Festival has been performing well and is “not at all” on probation.
“Their budget was around $100,000 and they’ve always done a very good job of it,” Villani said. “We are hoping that [the 2013 edition] is going to be an extremely successful festival. We want to see it survive, and want to see it continue. We understand the problems they’ve run into but I think the partnership between the City and the IAF is great because [the Festival] not only works with local performers but it truly brings in some of the world’s greatest accordion talent.”
The DCCD has already proposed to City Council that IAF get another $30,000 next year.
“For 2015 we’re going to open up a whole new process, and they will apply but that won’t happen until March or April of next year,” said Villani. Any chance the IAF could get more than $30,000 then?
“Absolutely,” said Villani.