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The Beat Goes On: 5th Annual Funk Parade Introduces Changes After Roller Coaster Year

What would you do if you knew the road ahead would lead to financial failure? Would you push forward with hopes of defying the odds? Or, would you re-evaluate and jump ship?

For the massive collective behind the Funk Parade, the only option was to push forward, coalesce and hope for the best. In the end, they were right. After a long year of planning, on May 12, the Funk Parade will draw an anticipated 50,000 people to the U Street Corridor to celebrate the 5th Annual Funk Parade, along with the culture and history it promotes.

The road leading to this year’s festivities came with its fair share of bumps and turns. The odds were stacked against festival organizers since the completion of last year’s event.

On the brisk, mid-50 degree spring day, the clouds released showers upon the 35,000 parade attendees. The count was already a drastic decline in attendance from the previous year, which reported more than 75,000 people. While the inclement weather hampered turnout, dAb Band lead singer Dior Ashley Brown, recalls last year’s performance as a major success.

As she looked out into the audience, she worried no one would come see her band’s set at one of the seven outdoor performance spaces. However, those within earshot couldn’t resist band’s beats, and she remembers the crowd of roughly 200 getting “high off the vibrations of sound.”

The success of Funk Parade is highly dependent on attendees, outdoor spaces and funds to fairly compensate partnering artists. Fortunately, attendance is of very little concern, for where there is live music in DC, there are people ready to listen and dance.  The latter two have proved problematic for those working to reach the parade’s five year mark.

In June, a month after rainy iteration of the event, a meeting welcoming all to produce the “largest event planned and coordinated by a core of volunteers”, was organized.

Going into this meeting, co-founders Chris Naoum and Justin Rood knew the number of outdoor spaces would potentially decline due to pre-approved development. As most DC dwellers know, gentrification has sprouted projects throughout its four quadrants. Specifically, the U Street area has been saddled with development for some time. This didn’t change, as some of the bigger performance spaces would soon undergo the process of becoming more luxury condos.

Overcoming this obstacle was tough, but doable. Reducing the foot print of Funk Parade from seven performance spaces to five was the only answer, according to organizers.

In addition to a significant decrease in performance spaces, the parade also experienced a decline in money donated by developers and local business. According to Rood (the co-founder who also manages the nonprofit All The City which produces Funk Parade), JBG, a development company, who had previously donated funds ranging from $10,000-$20,000, only contributed, “a couple thousand dollars” this year.

Rood recognizes the growth and changes within DC over the last twenty years, and explains how he saw Funk Parade as a needed catalyst “to bring all Washingtonians together for a day to celebrate the things they love about DC.”

He went on to note, “a lot of the investments that have been made in the city have unintended consequences, and while we see billions of dollars being invested in the development, we don’t see the same level of investment in strengthening and preserving the fabrics of community.”

With this in mind, “creative mash-ups” were planned in October to facilitate collective strategic planning to ensure 2018 festivities bring all locals together.

In an October meeting, featuring past artists and community organizations like the Kennedy Center and DC Public Library, open calls from the DC “creative scene” were reviewed and a goal of $200,000 was set for Funk Parade 2018 budget was set. The previous year’s budget was more than $100,000, Rood says.

The budget increase stemmed from a rise in artist participation, proposed projects, an optimistic prediction of surging popularity and the event’s 5th anniversary. In addition, this year’s parade will also honor the 50th anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. This disheartening reality organically uplifts communities and produces unity in many forms.

Though the Funk Parade opened its year of fundraising facing many setbacks, many DC government offices committed to support as they had done in the past. For instance, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities allocated a $20,000 grant, along with an offer to use the Lincoln Theatre as a new music showcase at a reduced price. The DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment also contributed a $5,000 grant.

In late January, behind the scenes excitement started to swell as the “Funk Powered” theme was announced and the third-year installment of the “Academy of Funk” was being developed in conjunction with Knowledge Commons DC.

After months of fundraising, organizers assessed their efforts and in March 2018, it was determined they would inevitably fall short of their $200,000 fundraising goal, by roughly $60,000. In previous years, Funk Parade would host a launch party in March to announce their crowdfunding campaign. However, after comparing previous years’ donors to current donors, the campaign would still be insufficient.

With this realization, the Funk Parade regrettably announced the cancellation of this year’s Funk Parade at their pre-planned launch party on March 7 at Marvin.  The discontent with the news ignited a philanthropic fuse throughout DC. Organizers received complaints that the parade was being cancelled due to lack of funds, but there wasn’t an advertised means for donating.

Shortly after, a flood of messaging and a crowdfunding campaign began on YouCaring.com. Even though donations trickled in, ranging from $20-$2,500, the Funk Parade continued to be at-risk of not meeting its financial obligations.

While news continued to spread of the Funk Parade’s demise, partners familiar with the event began to reach out to lead organizers, pledging large contributions. The Office of the Mayor contributed $25,000, bike-share company, JUMP Bike gave $12,000, and Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center pledged to match donations made to the YouCaring.com campaign, last checked at $25,395.

After a yearlong roller coaster of fundraising and cancellations, Funk Parade finally announced its plans to move forward on April 6. To gain a head start on next year’s fundraising and to provide a sustainable future, Funk Parade is introducing a new revenue generating component. Opposed to previous years’ everything free method, Funk Parade will instead deploy the free Day Fair and parade from 1-7 p.m. (the parade starts at 5 p.m.) with seven activation venues throughout U Street, and two ticketed events; a $15-$20 Lincoln Theatre Showcase with Ari Lennox and Mannywellz, and $10 Music Festival Wristband, which grants ticketholders access to over 20 venues.

For more information about Funk Parade, visit here.

Funk Parade: U St. NW, DC; www.funkparade.com 

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Langford Wiggins

Langford Wiggins is the CEO and founder of LANCAR Ink, a nonprofit news outlet that produces and distributes distinctly diverse multimedia content created by multicultural entry-level and matriculating journalists to news outlets, showcasing the impact of charitable initiatives, programs, and services aiding a plethora of communities. His personal multimedia works have appeared in five different languages and five countries on Voice of America and TheRoot.com.