Too much diversion and obfuscation: show us the festival books demand 5 community groups


Too much "diversion and obfuscation" from chambers when asked about the financials for the over abundant street festivals from Grand Avenue to Fullerton Street between Western and Ashland Avenues, have led to 5 community groups banding together to demand answers as they look to protect members of their respective communities and the public way. 

"We want to be the champions of these festivals," said Steve Jensen, President of the Bucktown Community Organization (BCO) who is the Acting Spokesman of the coalition of BCO, Chicago Grand Neighbors Association (CGNA), East Village Association (EVA), Wicker Park Committee (WPC) and Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association (UVNA). 

"But, we feel strongly that more transparency and consistency from fests in our neighborhoods are needed. We want granular financial reporting of income and expense. For example, we want to see how much went to insurance, bands, equipment, permits and fees and each type of security. On the income side, how much from the gates, beer, food, vendors, grants, etc. 

"If, for example, a chamber is making $62,000 in profit and another entity such as an events company is making $100,000 while $25,000 of public dollars have gone into the event and a local school has received a $2,500 donation, then we want to know that. There are community residents who have worked these events. We know that mountains of cash flow and that someone is keeping an eye on income. 

"We want festival books open. We want to have a dialogue between our group and festival producers and organizers so we can find honesty in their programs. We believe that will result in safer festivals, reduce aggravation among residents, and provide more tangible benefits to the community, community organizations and local businesses." 

He pointed out the importance of monies being re-invested in the local communities. "It is super important to put money into the communities because the City and Park District do not maintain our public places as they used to. We have three large public space parks in our area. We have to see that they are protected for the communities." [Parks are Holstein, Smith and Wicker Park.} 

In a letter going to the festival organizers, the coalition states that they request "from all festivals in our neighborhood, including Wicker Park Fest, Do Division, Green [Music] Fest, West Fest, Fashion Fest, and Design Harvest:

  • Complete transparency of festival financial statements. Including a detailed breakout of sponsorships, vendors, beer sales, grants, expenses & donations (at minimum, for the prior two years).
  • Inclusion of neighborhood groups in each festival’s logistics, safety & police plans in a timely fashion so they can have input and inform residents of what to expect. 
  • Understanding that profits vary by fest, we would like more consistency between fests in our neighborhoods regarding the portion of proceeds that go to community beneficiaries. 
  • If the festival decides to take donations, they must post signage explaining how the donation will be used. (Chicago law states that you can’t charge admission to the public way) This should include an established percentage of the gate to be donated to the identified nonprofit, excluding festival organizers. 
  • Each festival takes the responsibility to make sure any community organizations or non-profits receiving funds [or donations] are legitimate and are using proceeds as stated to go back into the neighborhood on a timely basis" 

Regarding next steps, EVA President Neal McKnight said, "We are looking for the Chambers and others to reveal this information to us. Then we prefer that the Alderman requires these groups to provide this information in order to be permitted."


Transparency is here, just opern your eyes

These festivals 1) require a huge amount of work, much of it done by those of us who volunteer our time to a local chamber of commerce (or similar group), 2) are inherently risky and 3) are not as profitable as some commenters seem to assume. As a long-time board member of the Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, I can only speak to the operation of the Wicker Park Fest and Green Music Fest, in the planning for which I have been involved. There are thorough reporting requirements to assure that expenditures and income are as claimed, so the community groups receive proceeds as agreed. As another poster said: it's in the IRS 990. If you are too lazy to get involved in the Chambers that are involved in the fest to learn firsthand, and you are also unwilling to seek out the information that is publicly available, don't complain that the fest in your area is not keeping you well-enough informed, look in the mirror.

Nonprofits must disclose their 990 tax returns

In FY2012, the WPBTChamber gross receipts for the Wicker Park Fest were 260,981, expenses were 196,119. The salary plus benefits for the Executive Director was 70,296, which looks to be pretty reasonable. He could have made more in consulting fees if he did the publicity, marketing etc. The FY2012 gross receipts for all West Town Chamber events were 746,552 total fest expenses were 596,813. They do not break it out by events. 990 tax returns for nonprofits are available for free at By law, you can request a copy of a nonprofit's latest 990 tax return via the US mail and audit if they have one. I got the above information at Guidestar. Neighborhood festivals have become a major source for revenue for Chambers. Transparency is a good thing. Keep in mind that big event vendors charge big bucks. When I was a volunteer at Pritzker Elementary, we lost big when we had a music festival in Wicker Park and still had to pay the vendor a lot of money. These vendors tend to bring in the carnie food funnel cake vendors, which I find very distasteful and encroaches on neighborhood vendors and restaurants. I quit going to Do Division because it caters to the fratboy mentality who come to the neighborhood, get drunk, pee in the alleys and leave their mess for the neighbors going out to Sunday brunch the next morning. Not to mention the fact that the Do Division logo is a gang sign. Oh yes, I'm well aware that their intent is the "I love you" message in sign language, but in an urban setting someone could get shot for making that sign. Do Division and the other fests around her don't care much about diversity either. So let's get those books open and keep the 'profits' in the neighborhood.

I don't understand

I don't understand why there is all of this negativity surrounding these events that only help market West Town as a cool place. Events like this are very expensive to put on and if West Town is raising all of the money and managing all of the events with privately raised money, why is there all of this questioning? Where can you go see all of these quality bands in the middle of a neighborhood for free? $5 is a suggested donation, they can't charge at the door. If West Town didn't have events like this, we wouldn't see all of the other retail attraction coming along with it. I want my neighorhood to be a place Chicagoan's want to visit and spend their money in! It's good for the spirit of the neighborhood and more, the value of my home.


Maybe next time I am asked for the donation at the gate, I will write a check to the Community Organization which covers the neighborhood. Force the money to go where it should.

This is Ridiculous

I live in Wicker Park and I have always noticed the large signs flanking entry gates that state the $5 is a mere *suggested* and not mandatory donation. I have also noticed that the signs clearly say that a portion of the proceeds go to schools in the neighborhood. It's just hard to notice these things when there are a million other sights competing for your attention at these fests. But they are always up. I point them out to my friends who don't want to pay the fee and once I tell them that the money is going to the schools and show them the sign, they are ok with it. However, the fact is that the groups and chambers that run these street fests don't have to yield to the demands of a small group of psychotic neighborhood Nazis from East Village Association who have waged war on street festivals. The event organizers don't owe you one damn document. Stop trying to ruin our great neighborhood.

there is a lot of beer and

there is a lot of beer and wine at these things, who gets that money? at least the fights have stopped.

Kudos to our neighborhood

Kudos to our neighborhood groups for asking these questions! My husband and I just read this and support this effort to determine where the money goes.

Ha! I always wondered what

Ha! I always wondered what was going on with these fests, I hope the truth comes out.

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