A Statement from the Fishers Freedom Festival President Don Dragoo
After 29 years of providing a long-standing tradition for Fishers residents and families, it with great sadness that the Fishers Freedom Festival announces the immediate ceasing of the Fishers Freedom Festival event held annually that celebrates Independence Day. In August, Fishers City Council with the support of Mayor Fadness decided to discontinue all grant money and in-kind services to the festival when they selected 13 organizations to split $331,000. Due to large financial challenges for 2018, the festival is forced to terminate future efforts and the 2017 Fishers Freedom Festival event held last June will complete its legacy.
“We are very proud of the Fishers Freedom Festival’s positive community impact that contributed to Fishers’ overall quality of life,” stated Festival Board President Don Dragoo. “The decision to terminate the Fishers Freedom Festival was made after many considerations, but is unavoidable due to financial circumstances. We want to sincerely thank all of our past sponsors, donors, vendors, residents, city staff and volunteers that have supported us over the past 29 years.”
The festival organization was created by residents with town leaders as a partnership back in 1989 and quickly grew from a picnic and parade into a full-weekend event attracting around 45,000 attendees from around the U.S. In 1998, the festival became a public non-profit organization allowing it to seek and accept tax-deductible sponsorships and donations to cover expenses excluding the in-kind support from town staff. From 2008 to 2016, the city’s monetary contribution was $85,000 annually and in-kind city staff support from the police, fire, parks, maintenance, and public works departments. In 2017, the city provided $45,000 and in-kind services. This August, the mayor and City Council decided to discontinue all funding, including in-kind staff service support, stating that the festival partnership does not fall within their city’s vision. With the festival’s current annual budget of approximately $329,000, this financial shortfall will cost approximately an additional $125,000 and current fundraisers, donations, and sponsorships aren’t enough to cover that expense.
Two current festival fundraisers will continue in the future. The annual Fishers Oktoberfest event will be entirely operated by Saxony with FFF volunteer support. The Christmas in October Craft Fair will be run by Fishers Freedom Festival volunteers alongside the Fishers High School Riley Dance Marathon Club who will eventually take over the craft fair. Other past discontinued fundraisers were the Fishers Firefighter Combat Challenge, golf outings, car auction, Texas Hold ‘Em, custom playhouse auction, cornhole tournament and more.
Besides the popular annual Independence Day event, the festival has provided scholarships, school supplies, other non-profit organization fundraisers, and food distributed to the community residents exceeding a total value of $967,915. Since 2010, food drive efforts averaged at least 2,100 pounds of public donations benefitting local food pantries. The festival’s “Roy G. Holland Backpack for Kids” program started in 2000 and collected donations to create over 4,000 new backpacks filled with specifically needed school supplies valued each at $100 distributed to less fortunate students living within the Hamilton Southeastern school district totaling an estimated value of $400,000. Since 2003, the festival has provided over $72,000 for numerous educational scholarships awarded to students living within the Hamilton Southeastern school district and City of Fishers’ employees. Since 2003, the festival provided 52 non-profit organizations a fundraising opportunity for their own groups by working the event parking lots, setting and cleaning up, and tearing down which totaled $157,974. At least 17 non-profits hosted event food booths earning them over $281,128 since 2007. Thousands of visitors from all over the U.S. attending the large-scale event helped boost local commerce and visibility in Fishers.
The annual Fishers Freedom Festival was always held on the last full weekend of June at the Roy G. Holland Memorial Park. It was regarded as a “Best of the Best” festival in Hamilton County, Top 5 Festivals in the State, and mentioned as one of the reasons that Fishers has been named one of the best places to live by national media over the many years. This free family event averaged around 130 juried fine art & craft sites, 80 business booths, 30 food vendors, 20 free games booths, and 14 live entertainment performances. Past activities also included a firework show, 5K, children’s tent, international disc dog competitions, kiddie run, teen tent, children’s parade, main parade, street dance, national firefighters challenge, silent auction, blood drive, rock climbing, zip line, dunk tank and much more. It has utilized thousands of volunteers who completed 3,000 hours last year alone during the festival event. This included 200 local students from scouting troops, National Honors Society, student councils, Key Club, and more.