News & Opinion » News

With festivals returning, City Hall opens up its wallet


Rochester’s festivals are back, and with them comes a new batch of city dollars.

Last year, the pandemic had put the kibosh on outdoor festivities, and with it, any subsidies from the city that would have otherwise flowed in. That will be changing for the latter half of 2021.

The KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival, scheduled for this fall, is proposed to receive $75,000 this year, a boost of $35,000 from its 2019 funding. The city’s funding is meant to specifically support Fringe's free, family-friendly events, and the increase is a combination of a planned regular budget boost, as well as one-time funds meant to offset last year’s losses.

Specifically, the city’s funds would support a daylong music festival at Parcel 5 focused around an unspecified “nationally-renowned band based out of Rochester,” the breakdance event Fringe Street Beat, gospel Sunday, and the pedestrian drive-in, among other free events.

"We are excited for live and in-person events at the KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival after a debilitating time period for the performing arts," says founding  Fringe Festival Producer Erica Fee. "As a small non-profit organization, we rely on grants and government funding in order to provide arts access in public spaces."

The Puerto Rican Festival is poised to get $60,000, a boost from the $40,000 subsidy it has received for the past three festivals.

In March 2020, prior to the festival’s cancellation, City Hall had pledged $80,000 to the festival, which traditionally spanned three days in August at Frontier Field. This year, the festival will be a bit different.

Rather than spanning three consecutive days, the festival will be held on the second and third Saturdays in August. The first day will take place at the International Plaza on North Clinton Avenue, and the second at Parcel 5. Both will be free.

With the festival scaled back, its funding increase was halved for 2021.

Roc Holiday Village would get the largest boost in funding in 2021. The event, which will span 13 days in December at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, has been wildly successful since its introduction in 2018. The city estimates over 100,000 visitors come each year for free ice skating, shopping, and cultural celebrations of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

The city invested $25,000 in each of Holiday Village’s first two years. This year, the budget will increase to $55,000. The city had originally planned on boosting the festival’s funding in 2020, but the event was ultimately canceled.

Another $50,000 is slated to be granted to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for free outdoor concerts. Included in that is a new festival series at Parcel 5 dubbed “RPO Outdoors: Live at the Five,” which will feature two free shows per night on Aug. 12, 13, and 14.

In May, the city had granted $40,000 to the orchestra for free shows, playing out through the end of the fiscal year, which ended in June. The legislation for the new funding described it as a “sustainable annual level of city support for RPO programming.”

Not all festivals came back in 2021—the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival, scheduled for July 30 to Aug. 7 at the Rochester Institute of Technology, was canceled, as well as the Park Avenue Summer Art Festival.

The Lilac Festival, which returned in 2021, was notably downsized, with the major omission of live music.

City Council is scheduled to vote on the new funding on Aug. 17.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or