A Letter from Our CEO About the Rooftop Concert Series 2019—Our 10th and Final Season
by Sarah Wiley
CEO and Co-Founder of the Rooftop Concert Series in Downtown Provo
May 9, 2019
2019 will be the 10th and final season for the Rooftop Concert Series in Downtown Provo. We are really excited and working hard planning four amazing concerts this summer that will showcase and celebrate what we have accomplished over the years, and the community that has made it all possible. Deciding this is our final season is not something that we came to lightly and it deserves some background and explanation. Change is always hard, and although we are certainly sad to close this chapter, we feel really positive about Provo and music and future possibilities.
But the big question is, why does it have to end? Let me try to explain.
First and foremost, we have long surpassed our original goals. The Rooftop Concert Series was originally organized as an effort to help revitalize Downtown Provo through the arts. When we started back in 2009, Downtown Provo was a completely different place. Empty storefronts, some great businesses that held down the fort for years, but little innovation, art, vitality - many residents felt like there was no reason to ever go there, and it showed. Rooftop Concerts came along and played a big part in drawing people downtown, changing the perception and reputation, and contributing to the climate that ultimately we have today - a vibrant, inspiring economic and cultural hub of the city. Mission accomplished.
Second - planning, organizing, and executing every season is a lot of work. We’ve done it happily as a volunteer crew for 10 years now, motivated by a love of Provo and music, a desire to make a difference, an opportunity to put our talents to use to help others, and great relationships built along the way. But we’ve made sacrifices as well, and key leadership and staff members have changed over the years, which affects the continuity and sustainability of the whole operation. We still have a great team who continues to hustle to make the series happen, but every year we have to assess the tradeoffs and viability going forward.
Third and most significant - our funding model is not sustainable. It’s no surprise that the hardest part of any project is fundraising, and the Rooftop Concert Series is no different. Every year expenses increase as the concerts grow (yay growth!) and every year the business climate resets so that we have to go back to square one looking for sponsors. Provo City and many downtown businesses have been great supporters over the years, but the viability of the series has from the beginning depended on corporate sponsorships. We keep our costs as low as possible (I guarantee we run a leaner budget than any other concert series around!) and have worked hard to protect our core value of promoting the arts and providing free community concerts. But the bottom line is we’ve hustled for that funding for 10 years and it is always hard and stressful and it is simply not sustainable to reinvent that process every year.
Of course there are other funding models that are used to sustain these types of events in other places, so this is where I put a plug for getting involved in local government and making your voice be heard. A few years ago the voters in Provo passed a tax intended specifically to benefit Recreation, Arts, and Parks. We thought that might be helpful for us but in the end only a small percentage of the proceeds went to Arts endeavors, and of that only a smaller portion went to support Rooftop Concerts. Other cities fund cultural events through an Arts Council or a Downtown Alliance or other cultural priority measures. If you care about supporting free community events like Rooftop Concerts in the future, get involved, communicate your wishes with your city council members and city leadership, VOTE, help be a part of the solution.
Finally, I’m completely convinced that when Rooftop Concerts moves aside, something else great will come along to fill the space. It might take some time, maybe even some trial and error to get it right. But I know it can happen and we are totally available and eager to help consult and endorse and support in any way we can. The environment and culture in Downtown Provo is completely different now than when we started, which means the inspiration, creativity, requirements, and possibilities are different too. Perfect recipe for innovation.
Believe me, it breaks my heart to think about no more Rooftop Concerts. There have been some priceless, magical moments on our stage and under our lanterns and on the rooftop and in the streets. We’ve managed to cross boundaries and find common ground and bring people together like I’ve never seen before. We’ve showcased and been edified by the enormous artistic talent in this city, and it kills me to think of that much more talent that will never have the chance to shine on our stage. The tribute shows that bring so many different musicians together on a shared project, the chance to witness first-hand fame and world-wide success that has roots right here in Provo, fireworks perfectly timed with the grand finales, families enjoying music together across generations, so many amazing performances that included my own personal friends and family. So so many good times.
Change is really hard for me. Giving up the known and putting your hope in some unknown is scary. But if anything can be learned from our experience with Rooftop Concerts it is this: it is possible for a group of individual citizens with vision, talent, common goals, and a willingness to work hard, to accomplish great things for the people of Provo. We did it, and you can too. Thank you for 10 great years. Come celebrate with us four more times with some amazing concerts this summer. You don’t want to miss this.