Every Little Bit

With a tax survey in hand and a record-low debt, All Soul organizers hope to start the new year with heads held high

Around this time of year, and sometimes even later into the next, it isn't unusual to hear All Souls Procession organizers put the word out that it needs help tackling debt from the previous procession.

This year, there's debt, but at close to $8,000, it's a record low compared to past years where the Procession debt has closed out between $14,000 to more than $17,000. It's estimated that more than 50,000 people participate and attend the Procession every year, an annual 24-year-old event that comes with a price tag of almost $93,000 with a portion going to the city of Tucson for police and barricades.

In 2012, the Procession carried over a debt of $14,818 with revenue at $46,764 and total expenses at $61,582. In 2011, debt was $17,413, revenue $59,327 and total expenses $76,740. In 2012, infrastructure costs—security, Tucson Police Department and Department of Public Safety, as well as Waste Management and barricades—came to $16,561.

Nadia Hagen, Flam Chen artistic director and Procession organizer, says she's still crunching numbers for 2013, but having the remaining debt be as low as $8,000 is "a huge weight lifted."

Procession organizers and volunteers hope to pay off the debt before the end of the year to allow months of unencumbered planning and fundraising for the next. However, a tax survey done with assistance from the Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) during the evening of this past Procession is giving organizers even more reasons to celebrate that comes with a figure of $17 million.

That means that businesses and the city make $17 million just because of the All Souls Procession.

Hagen says the idea for a tax survey came when she and other organizers went to the city to talk to them about providing more support and learned that what was needed was an independent tax study done with a verifiable organization.

"Without it didn't give us that clout we needed," she says.

Part of TPAC's mission is to establish what the arts do in the community in a concrete way, and Hagen says these kinds of tax surveys often help to justify what arts groups usually know all along—that festivals and arts programs are an important contributor to the local economy and should be taken seriously.

The survey cost the organization $7,000 and was conducted from a booth located at the beginning of the Procession area. Hagen says All Souls received a copy of the report a couple of weeks ago, but is still going through the details and wants a chance to study it further with its board of directors before officially going public with every aspect.

However, she did share that the survey asked 400 people a variety of questions: How many times have they visited Tucson? Was the visit just for All Souls or did they do other things? How many days did they stay in town? Who did they stay with? How much did they spend and on what?

And then there were questions on the Procession itself that Hagen says she really appreciated: How do you feel about the Procession? How did it influence your experience and impression of Tucson? How it made you feel?

"But the bottom line is this magic number—that the All Souls Procession brings in $17.5 million in revenue for the city of Tucson and that's a lot of money," she says.

Through the survey, Hagen says they know that $11 million comes from the materials people buy to build costumes and floats specifically for the Procession. A big chunk also comes from food and drink purchases, and then a smaller portion to hotels. One number that stood out is parking—during the Procession the city makes $45,000 in parking.

For writing grants, the survey numbers will be a huge help, too. "We really needed to establish a very valid number and show that we're not making it up. This is how much we're worth to you and how much we make you."

However, being validated by a tax survey is a little bittersweet. Hagen says it's taken All Souls almost 25 years to have a budget just to be able to do the survey and generate the numbers. "For an organization to survive without assistance from the city, well, it is unreasonable to not help or to come from a place, 'I'm not helping till you have legs,'" Hagen laments.

"We've lost a lot of arts projects and programs over the years with that attitude. We need to nurture them when they are small so they aren't lost."

Now to tackle the debt. All Souls volunteer Jhon Sanders says one help during this year's Procession was Hungry Ghosts—volunteers of musicians in pedicabs who cruised Sixth Avenue as procession participants and observers got in place before beginning the trek through downtown to the finale in the Menlo Park neighborhood east of the freeway.

Large collection cans were strapped to the sides of the pedicabs provided by Tony Rivera's University Pedicabs, and Sanders says $8,700 was raised by the effort going toward expenses. Sanders says the goal is to use the Hungry Ghosts model again next year, but increase awareness.

"It's obvious that during that time the energy is up and the enthusiasm is there—people get why we are there," Sanders says. "We could probably have a surplus for next year if everyone who came out gave $2 or $3. Out the door it would be paid for."

Sanders says months leading to the 2013 Procession included more fundraising efforts than previous years—Nights of 1,000 Parties, which encouraged the general public to hold house parties and ask for donations for the Procession. There was also an increase in business sponsorships and donations, which really helped.

"As far as we're concerned we are hitting a watershed moment. The community's response has been tremendous, but we want to finish this year without debt and create a momentum for the next Procession," he says.

Sanders, who helps organize the Procession of Little Angels, says he's encouraged that people consider additional house parties, and even yard or bake sales. "Just a mini-fundraiser. You don't have to jump into the fray and take on a massive project right now and the same thing applies as it does every year—every little bit goes a long way."

For the first time in many years, Sanders says the Procession could be paid for before the 2014 Procession.

"Once we get to that, that's the community renaissance we are talking about," he says.

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