DECATUR — The sun has set on the Decatur Celebration. Or has it?
The unofficial announcement comes not from the organizers of the street festival that has filled downtown Decatur with music, food and drink for the past three decades. Instead it comes from vendors who have not been contacted by Celebration officials about taking part in the festival for this year and who are still waiting to get refunds from the canceled 2020 event.
“Their lack of communication is awful. Not even a ‘Sorry’ on the voicemail,” said Angela R. Jackson, who operates a booth selling artistic recycled bottles. She attempted to speak with the Decatur Celebration board, with no response. Then the Decatur Regional Chamber of Chamber of Commerce, who suggested she contact the Decatur Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
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“And I’ve gotten nowhere,” she said.
Jackson put a $250 deposit to reserve her spot for the 2020 event. And while Jackson is anxious to get her refund, she also wants some answers.
Attempts by the Herald & Review to contact the last known Celebration officials have been unsuccessful or they have indicated they are no longer on the board and can’t provide current information.
But all the signs point to an obvious conclusion, at least for this year. In addition to having no publicity campaign to highlight the various musical acts, there has been no contact with the city of Decatur.
According to Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, the city grants requests for a liquor license, permits and protection nearly a year in advance. “Something like this isn’t just pulled together,” she said.
City leaders allow the use of public property, police and public works employees.
Emails obtained by the Herald & Review through the state Freedom of Information Act also show vendors contacting the city and Civic Center seeking refunds. In each case, they are told the city doesn't operate the Celebration.
The Decatur Celebration is a private organization with its own board, finances and volunteers. Founded in 1986, the organization has had a series of financial hardships, including the resignation of producer Lori Sturgill in 2019 following nine years running the event.
According to Illinois Office of the Secretary of State, the Decatur Celebration's 501(c)3 nonprofit status is listed as "Not Good Standing." This status refers to a missed filing deadline. The last documents filed with the IRS included 2019 information.
The tax filing shows revenue after expenses for the previous year a negative 33,608, while 2019 showed revenue after expenses at $39,977 and total assets of $87,019.
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The office that was once located at 160 E. Main St., Suite 200, has been emptied of the office equipment. The festival's website has been taken down. And the last posting on the Decatur Celebration DC Facebook page was on April 2020. After one year as the Celebration producer, Jarrod Cox said in March that he was no longer associated with the festival.
The last public comments regarding the Decatur Celebration from a group official came in November 2020 when the board of directors issued a release seeking a cash infusion of at least $150,000 or a collaboration it said was needed to keep the festival going.
"The future of the Decatur Celebration is very uncertain and our greatest concern at this time is the lack of financial resources," said Claudette Davis, who was board president at the time. When contacted in March, Davis had no comment about the future of the festival. Attempts to contact Davis for this story were unsuccessful.
In the meantime, vendors are left waiting for a response.
Joyce Schanter retired from media work after 20 years and began making jewelry to sell. “It gives me some extra money and it's fun,” she said.
For nearly 10 years, the Decatur Celebration was one of her favorite venues. With other events, she would often pay a reservation fee for the next festival a year in advance. “But Decatur never offered that, up until that year (2019)” Schanter said. “At the end of that show they came to us with applications. I paid them cash that night.”
When the 2020 Celebration was cancelled, Schanter asked for her money back.
“We’re counting it as a big loss, but you can’t just walk away from that,” Schanter said. “There are people who have paid much more than me and it’s just gone.”
One of those is long-time Celebration vendor Vinnie Barbee. He sent the organization the required $550 to reserve a spot as a food vendor for the 2020 festival. After last year’s Celebration was cancelled, Barbee waited for his refund. “I waited two or three weeks,” he said after being told the money would be returned to vendors.
Barbee was given the deadline of May 2020 for his refund. “May came and nothing. No call back,” he said. “I’ve called them over 10 times. No answer. Nothing.”
While some are wondering about the state of the Celebration, others are already looking for ways to fill the void.
Jeff Quick is owner of BlueRock Records and BlueRock Event Solutions.
“We think that the community would respond to it and we are definitely capable of making it similar to the Battle of the Bands that we had at the Decatur Celebration,” he said. “It would be a very local and regional entry.”
Quick’s idea includes two stages in Central Park with more than 24 bands playing for approximately an hour each. “So the music would never stop,” he said.
Food trucks and vendors would be invited to join in the event. “It would basically be a little bit bigger Battle of the Bands, but smaller than the Decatur Celebration,” Quick said.
Although no plans have been made, Quick has spoken to others who may have an interest in a similar event. “If the (Decatur Celebration) isn’t happening, we can fill the gap with something smaller,” he said. “If the city wants it, we think it would be great.”
Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR