NYC Halloween parade: Melodrama on a shoestring

Tuesday, October 13, 2009
FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2009 file photo, illuminated pumpkins are displayed at "The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze" Halloween event in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. This year in nearby New York City, there will be fewer floats and puppets, less music, and no Airstar lighting along the route of the city's Village Halloween Parade thanks to the stumbling economy. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes, File)

NEW YORK -- There will be fewer floats and puppets and less music along New York's Village Halloween Parade route this year.

But despite the stumbling economy, organizers remained determined to make the famously outlandish event bigger and better than ever.

Due to cuts in funding and sponsors, there'll be seven floats, down from about 20. Street lights will suffice for the previous years' expensive illumination.

Organizers normally commission 10 artists to make "giant visuals" such as puppets. But not this year, organizers said.

None of the movie and record companies are sponsors this year in contrast to last year, the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson's "Thriller," when Sony was a sponsor, organizers said.

FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2006 file photo, revelers march with a pumpkin patch display during the 33rd annual Village Halloween Parade in New York. There will be fewer floats and puppets, less music, and no Airstar lighting along the route of New York's Village Halloween Parade this year thanks to the stumbling economy. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Still, Jeanne Fleming, who's been the artistic and producing director for the past 29 years, said the parade is about more than money.

"There's a civic responsibility we have that goes much further than money," Fleming said. "It adds to the city's cultural and imaginative life. We did the parade seven weeks after 9/11 on $22,000. We took care of the spirits. That's our job. We have to do our job whether we have the money or not."

"When you have a New York City tradition," Fleming continued, "that means as much to the city as this does spiritually, creatively, financially, you don't just say, 'We don't have the money, we're closing up the shop.'"

If the parade were to be canceled, Fleming predicted, the city's restaurants, clubs, and subway system would lose millions of dollars in revenue. Worse, she said, the city "would lose its reputation." Which is maybe why NYC & Company, the city's tourism arm, donated $5,000 to the parade, according to Fleming.

Fleming, who said she's not being paid for her work this year, emphasized that the parade is a "true cultural phenomenon of America" that expresses New Yorkers' creativity and what's on their minds through costumes. It's not, she said, a business.

The economic challenge has compelled many artists to pull together to make the parade happen, she said.

Some bands and other artists, for example, are offering their services for a smaller fee, she said.

While some sponsors have pulled out, others have cut back. For example, The Village Voice is sponsoring one float, down from two, Fleming said.

And Fleming believes timing is on the parade's side this year. Halloween falls on a Saturday, and in tough economic times people are always in search of free entertainment.

"The costumes are going to be great because people will have all day Saturday to work on their costumes," she said. "They're going to stay out late. It's just we don't have any money."

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