Rumors surfaced earlier in the week that Creative City Project (Website) was considering moving their blockbuster annual art event, Immerse, out of downtown Orlando, and sadly, it seems like the rumors are true.
Festival lead, Cole NeSmith, has confirmed that the move out of downtown Orlando is in fact on the table, but not necessarily a done deal.
“I wasn’t really ready to have external conversations about this. But we’re having them internally, and I’m okay being open about that. It truly is a paradox because I love our city. But there are also financial realities about producing an excellent public art festival.”– COLE NESMITH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CREATIVE CITY PROJECT
Immerse, which started as a group of NeSmith’s friends and favorite artists and arts organizations who believed in the power of art to transform a city for the better, has grown into a massive undertaking each year and that the financial pressures have grown each year, only to be compounded by the pandemic.
According to NeSmith, Creative City management has been having exploratory conversations with industry colleagues about the future of the festival, with one of the options being an “Olympic-style bid process” that could take the event to different communities in the region or beyond who are making investments in their downtowns and looking for more placemaking opportunities.
NeSmith has been touring other events and cities throughout the year, including similarly-sized ones like the GDLUZ festival in Guadalajara, Mexico, that remain free for attendees, and festivals where individuals pay for admission, like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and SXSW, to weigh all of their options.
“There are financial realities that affect our ability to produce a widely accessible, public art festival. Across our industry and around the world, the model for public art and culture festivals relies heavily on significant investment from the municipality that is the primary beneficiary of the festival.”– COLE NESMITH, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CREATIVE CITY PROJECT
Creative City succeeded in gathering roughly $400,000 from corporate partners for its most recent event this past October, which attracted an estimated 100,000 people to the Central Business District, and featured more than 1,000 artists and performers. A decline in the amount of money collected via initiatives like Orange County’s Blockbuster Fund and the Tourist Development Tax has put festivals like Immerse in a precarious situation following the COVID-19 pandemic, as public and private funds become harder and harder to find.
NeSmith also stated that he hopes these initial conversations remain exploratory, as the main mission for Immerse up until this point has been to create unique art experiences in the core of downtown Orlando.
This is a developing story and no decisions on the future of the festival have been made at the time of this piece being published.