High costs putting a pinch on Milwaukee's ethnic festivals

NOW: High costs putting a pinch on Milwaukee’s ethnic festivals

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Milwaukee is known as the "City of Festivals," but some of those festivals have canceled or changed plans this year. We wondered if this is because of the lingering effects of COVID-19, or if their long-term future is in doubt.

At a May Common Council committee meeting discussing security agreements between Milwaukee Police and the city's ethnic festivals, District 11 Alderman Mark Borkowski sounded the alarm about their financial health.

"The ethnic festivals are hanging on desperately," Borkowski said.

Each festival works with the City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department separately and must provide their own security. Rose Anne Cerso Fritchie, Director of Festa Italiana, says the cost of security is just one of the factors that forced them to scale down plans this year.

"Metal detectors... the cost of doing that is in my view astronomical, but then how do you put a price on peoples' safety?" she said.

Festa Italiana, the oldest, and formerly the largest of Milwaukee's ethnic festivals, recently announced plans to hold their event at the Italian Community Center, moving off their previous home at the Henry W. Maier festival grounds, where they hosted the festival since 1978.

"The Henry W. Maier festival grounds are fabulous, it's wonderful! You don't have to think about infrastructure, because it is there, but you're paying for it," Ceraso Fritchie said.

Post-COVID, with more local competition for the entertainment dollar, Ceraso Fritchie says festivals have to make difficult choices

"We've lost Indian Summer, we lost Asian Moon Festival, African World Festival has changed, it is now Black Arts Festival and it's a one-day event. So yes, we are losing festivals."

Even the large festivals at the Summerfest grounds are not immune to higher costs.

"What I am hearing from the other festivals is very similar," Ceraso Fritchie said, "You can't go into a festival knowing you are going to lose a couple hundred thousand dollars, that's fiscally irresponsible."

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