For 38 years, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival has become known as the premier ragtime festival in the United States. Any event of this magnitude is not accomplished without cost, both in terms of the labor involved and the finances needed.
Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation President John Simmons told Democrat reporter Faith Bemiss last week, “It takes an entire volunteer city to pull this off …Without the help of the people we call on it would be difficult to physically do.”
Much of that physical labor is done at the hands of the 12-member Board of Directors that plans the annual festival and oversees the countless jobs needed to make the event what it is.
“The Scott Joplin Foundation members along with many other volunteers that help during the week of the festival and thought the year invest more than 1,200 volunteer hours annually,” according to Joplin Foundation Treasurer Kyle Herrick.
Those volunteers do everything from moving equipment, setting up stages and chairs to operating the Ragtime Store in the Hayden Liberty Center Association for the Arts and serving as guides for festival visitors.
“The average visitor to Sedalia spends in excess of $125 of a day per person,” Herrick said. “Tourism is a very big part of the revenue the city relies on for sales tax dollars and the more people come to Sedalia and spend the better it is for everyone financially.”
According to Sedalia Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Carolyn Crooker, the anticipated economic impact to the city of Sedalia for the four-day event is more than $71,000.
“Our musical heritage comes alive when the Ragtimers arrive in our community,” Crooker said. “In speaking with some of the music lovers I find they enjoy the welcoming atmosphere of Sedalia’s people and appreciate the Ragtime Foundation’s dedication to hold it annually for everyone to celebrate the man, the music, and where it began.”
The festival has a annual budget of $150,000, according to the organization' website. Most of those funds are used to secure the entertainers who perform during the event as well as equipment and marketing costs.
“We have several personal foundation donations, Missouri Arts Council Grants and City of Sedalia grant dollars that support the festival,” Herrick noted. “Ticket sales offset the performers' costs and also the venues’ when they perform. We have tent rental and piano rental at each venue.
“The sales from the store are used for offset costs of other special events such as awards, the donor party and artist-in-residence when the performers go to area schools to educate students about the importance of Scott Joplin and the history of ragtime.”
Herrick said a grant provided by the Missouri Tourism Commission allows the foundation to market the festival through radio, newspaper and magazine ads. The marketing seems successful as this year guests from 26 states and four foreign countries will find their way to Joplin’s adopted home in Sedalia.
Several local businesses provide in-kind donations that will easily have a value of $5,000 or more, according to Herrick. It is local support that is vital to the success of the nonprofit organization.
“It’s important that we keep reminding residents that the festival is going on and that they should support it,” Herrick said. It is an observation Crooker agrees with.
“The hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and shops are glad to have the visitors as it helps their cash registers, and they like these visitors as they are happy, delightful people,” Crooker said.