When organizers of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe looked at the books earlier this year, they saw what most arts groups in the country saw - a budget hole.
Grants of $125,000 - a healthy slice of the $2 million annual budget - were gone from the organization, which imports and stages two weeks of groundbreaking entertainment each September, said Nick Stuccio, the producing director.
Stuccio and board president Richard W. Vague set out to plug the shortfall and called on another board member, restaurateur Audrey Taichman, for ideas.
How about a gala? she said.
The men balked, for two reasons. One was pragmatic. "They make money, but at a great cost," Stuccio said. Typically, a nonprofit's gala breaks even, at best.
The second was that the Fringe is just that; it's not a highbrow institution whose core patrons shell out hundreds of dollars for gala tickets. Five or 10 bucks for a show in a coffeehouse, yes.
Taichman counterargued. Since the Fringe would have a large warehouse available during the festival, the venue would be free. Entertainment? How about a few festival acts? She also vowed to lean on fellow restaurateurs and bar owners to provide food and alcohol, as they do for other charity events.
And, she asked, why wouldn't customers of Jose Garces, Georges Perrier, Michael Solomonov, Stephen Starr, and Marc Vetri buy into something like this?
"Let's bring the two cultures together," Taichman said.
Wednesday night, as this year's Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe draws to a close, 500 people will gather at the festival's warehouse in Northern Liberties for the first Feastival. It is sold out.
Feastival turned a profit even before the first tickets were sold at $200 and $300 a head. It is expected to raise $200,000, including the proceeds of a live and silent auction. Gov. Rendell is expected to play auctioneer, and Mayor Nutter is due to attend.
"The challenge right is now fitting everybody in," said Taichman, who noted a snowball effect that drew nearly 60 restaurants and bars and 75 sponsors. Stuccio called Taichman "a force of nature."
Just as important to Vague, Feastival will expose socialites and the power crowd to the Fringe, and vice versa. "This is something that means so much to me, personally and professionally," said Vague, who straddles both worlds as he is chairman and chief executive of Energy Plus, in University City.
"So many of my employees are artists," said Taichman, who owns Twenty Manning Grill and Audrey Claire near Rittenhouse Square.
Next year's Fringe is on even better financial footing, Vague said. "These dollars raise the profile of the Philadelphia cultural community," he said.