Spotlight Lexington Festival 2011 canceled

Blake Shelton opened the 2010 Spotlight Lexington Festival on the stage on the courthouse plaza Sept. 24, 2010. © Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins.

Blake Shelton opened the 2010 Spotlight Lexington Festival on the stage on the courthouse plaza Sept. 24, 2010. © Herald-Leader photo by Matt Goins.

UPDATED, 4 p.m. July 11: Organizers of the 2011 Spotlight Lexington festival announced Monday that the event, seen as one of the legacy projects from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, has been canceled because of a lack of financial support.

Spotlight 2011 was to be a successor to last year’s hit downtown event during the Games, which featured free public performances by such big-name acts as Blake Shelton and Trombone Shorty. Festival chair Kip Cornett said that though the 2011 event was announced last winter with a quarter of its funding pledged by St. Joseph Health System, a groundswell of additional funding did not materialize. The festival that could have been presented would have been a shadow of its original self, he said.

“It was a little surprising,” Cornett said of the fund-raising shortfall, “but we decided that we didn’t want to do something halfway.”

Cornett said that the committee needed $400,000 to $450,000 to present a Wednesday-to-Sunday downtown festival in the fall along the lines of the Spotlight 2010, which took place over two weeks and three weekends on several downtown stages.

Cornett said fund-raising efforts drummed up about $280,000, and then “we hit a cavalcade of ‘We can’t do it this year,’ and we ran out of doors to knock on.”

It was particularly disappointing, Cornett said, because there was a lot of talk about creating legacy events and projects from the World Equestrian Games, and Spotlight seemed poised to be one of them. According to Lexington police estimates, 175,000 people attended Spotlight events last year.

“The most satisfaction I got out of the Spotlight festival was that we proved we could do these sorts of things,” Cornett said. “We proved that if we pooled our resources and checkbooks, we can do some neat things like the Austins and Cincinnatis and Louisvilles out there.”

Steve Austin, vice president of community leadership and engagement at the Bluegrass Community Foundation, has overseen two legacy projects, the Legacy Trail and the East End Revitalization Project. He said Monday that those projects were successful, noting that fund-raising and work on them had begun before the Games. He said that the foundation now aimed to look at new projects to build on the momentum of the Legacy Trail and East End.

Austin said he was surprised the Spotlight festival had run into trouble because “it seemed like such a natural legacy event, since it was so successful.”

But Austin, like others, acknowledged that the fund-raising environment is not good.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray said in a written statement, “The economy is taking its toll on fund-raising, just like it’s taking a toll on everything else.

“But we all really enjoyed Spotlight,” he said, “so let’s not give up on it, but take a step back this year to examine and plan and gain community support for a sustainable festival.”

Currently, that is also Cornett and the festival committee’s plan.

Had they presented the festival this year, Cornett said, his fear was it would have been a disappointment and faded away in subsequent years.

Looking forward to a Spotlight 2012, he said it is “still very feasible.”

St. Joseph spokesman Jeff Murphy, who is also on the Spotlight committee, said, “The entire committee is dedicated to repeating the enormous success of the 2010 event.”

Cornett said, “Everyone on the committee is committed to coming back.”

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