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Herndon officials grapple with ways to expand cultural festivals

Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Town of Herndon officials are exploring ways to expand the number and quality of cultural festivals in the town.

At a Herndon Town Council meeting on Sept. 5, council members considered the option of providing funding for community cultural festivals if applications meet specific qualifications.

“Often referred to in discussions with Town Council as ‘mini-festivals,’ the desire is to add to the town’s already robust community event opportunities, with focus placed on highlighting and celebrating the town’s culturally diverse community,” according to the policy statement.

In order to be eligible to town funds, the event must be held on public property, be free and open to all, and celebrate and reflect the cultural diverse of the Herndon community.

Funding requests are limited to $5,000 per event per fiscal year.

At the meeting, council members honed in on process improvements for the disbursement and approval process. Others struggled to reconcile how involved the town should be in cultural programming.

Council member Pradip Dhakal said that the town should consider being an active organizer, not just a passive donor for cultural events.

“Let’s own this a little bit,” Dhakal said.

Dhakal also said that some applicants may not have ironed out details of proposed events, especially if the town allows applications one year before the event takes place.

“A lot of organizations who are planning to host certain events may want to apply and at least get the funds approved so that we don’t run out of the funds,” Dhakal said.

Council member Keven LeBlanc also encouraged staff to hone in on the semantics of proposed requirements — including what qualifies as a public event and public property and what defines a cultural activity.

“Is a Herndon grad party culture?” said LeBlanc, adding Juneteeth events as another ambiguous example.

Others like council member Cesar del Aguila noted that the town should consider restructuring some events like Friday Night Live! and the weekly farmers market in downtown Herndon.

Mayor Sheila Olem also noted that pooling volunteers is challenging for festivals. Town manager Bill Ashton II emphasized that seeking overtime hours from staff or the police department is often challenging, especially if additional security is needed.

“We’re going to have a really hard conversation about this,” Ashton II said.

The funding mechanism is intended for to support events that happen in downtown, encourage nonprofits to host more cultural festivals and encourage events that celebrate the community’s cultural diversity.

The concept was first introduced as a council initiative in 2022. The fiscal year 2024 budget includes $70,000 in funds for cultural festivals.

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