Anthony Asadullah Samad

*Summer is a time to be outdoors and to experience the wonders of new things, including the diversity of others. Summer festivals bring education, socialization and family enjoyment.

Even in momentary economic recessions, festivals bring a much needed relief where families can affordably entertain themselves. Many cities are known for their culture fests. Los Angeles has several culture festivals of note, but none more significant than the African Marketplace.

A festival that promotes African culture and African commerce to the city, the region and the world for the past 25 years. A festival that draws tens of thousands of people for four consecutive weekends to allow vendors to sell their wares and its attendees to hear music, taste food, buy clothing, jewelry and artifacts from throughout the African diaspora on the continent and in the Caribbean.

It brings millions of dollars into the local economy, taxes and fees in the city budget and offers a diversion away from the violence, the unemployment and the hardships we are facing in the city of Los Angeles today. Yet, the City of Los Angeles is in economic crisis. There has been budget cuts across the board, and the elimination of many of the city’s non-essential services. It is understood that we all must tighten our belts. The African Marketplace has struggled the past few years, and has reduced the festival from four to two weekends.

This year’s festival is scheduled for August 28, 29 and September 4, 5, 6, 2010. Now it has a huge barrier to overcome. The City of Los Angeles is trying to charge the festival over $180,000 to hold the African Marketplace for two weeks, in a public park. Now we know the City is having a hard time…but $180,000???For what?

Taxpayer money is not just to run government. It is not just to pay for services, as crucial as services are. Some parts of the city budget do go for constituent enrichment. In this instance, monies for cultural affairs are considered “non-essential” to the operation of the city. Those services have been the first to go. The African Marketplace has found a way to exist with the reduction or elimination of city funds. All they need is the space. Space that wouldn’t be otherwise used to the extent it would be. Most of our public throughout the City are underutilized.

But when we finally do want to use the parks for something of cultural benefit, the city bureaucrats want to overcharge people. It doesn’t cost $180,000 for city Recreation and Parks personal to staff the park for five days. It doesn’t cost $180,000 to put up section barriers. What does it cost $180,000 to do? Fill some department’s budget shortfall? The politics of the “ask” for the African Marketplace stinks from the very notion that the City would try to profiteer on the backs of the people. For the people of the community to have to be denied of the use of a public park, because the city wants to overcharge festival organizers (who also work for the city) is bogus. It would be different if the festival was costing the city $180,000. If the money’s not their, the money’s not there. But if the money’s not there, the actual cost to the city is affordable for the festival and they come up with the money, it is not right, nor proper, for the city to then make the festival unfeasible but its wants to charge so much that it makes the proposition unaffordable. We shouldn’t let the City of Los Angeles kill the African African Marketplace. $20,000? $40,000? Maybe even $60,000 for two weekends. That could be seen as reasonable. $180,000? That’s not even reasonable, much less affordable. As a community, we can’t act like we don’t see what’s up here.

Contact the Mayor, members of the City Council and the City Comptroller (who wants to be the next Mayor), and tell them our community WANT the African Marketplace this year and we want a significant fee reduction. Tell the Mayor to buy a ticket (since we can’t give him one—but since he’ll probably bring proclaimations). We know they’re watching him on the free ticket thing. But he needs to understand what this means to our community. He needs (and we need) to help save the African Marketplace in Los Angeles. This is a cultural festival that helps us understand what Africa and African tradition means to our community and helps others understand our traditions. If the African Marketplace didn’t raise the money to put on the festival, that’s one thing. To be gouged by the city is something altogether different. And we’re helping to expose it.

We cannot let the City be the one to kill our cultural festival. Not now, not ever.

Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com