Make MayDay happen: Challenges of MayDay need your ideas and your support


Dear Neighbors,

I’m writing about the MayDay Parade and Festival, specifically the situation for MayDay this year and into the future.

I’m the artistic director of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, one of the founders of MayDay, and one of the midwives of this event’s artistic and community development for 39 years. It has been my great joy to work with so many wonderful people for so many years! Thank you!

This year has me worried, though. As we crafted our theatre’s finances for 2013, our executive director Loren Niemi suggested we not “do MayDay” this year; our budget would not support it. …What? Not do MayDay?! After much discussion, our Board and staff agreed instead to do MayDay with a budget 33% less than previous years, while making a commitment to build a broader base of public fiscal support for this very public event.

One special idea: Be part of a support “Guild” for the MayDay Ceremony ritual puppets. There are certain puppets used every year for the MayDay Ceremony in Powderhorn Park: the Tree-of-Life, the Sun Flotilla, the Woods, the Prairie, The Sky, and the River. There are already “guilds” of people that care for the Tree-of- Life and the Sun Flotilla. These teams not only tend to the repair and assembly of these puppets, but also the enactment of these puppets in the Ceremony. I am looking for teams of people who would do the same for the “Old Ones”— the 4 big puppets of The Sky, The Woods, The Prairie, and The River.

Many of you may know Jim Koplin and the immense volunteer support he gave our theatre. Many of you may also know he died unexpectedly in December, leaving an immense hole in our hearts. One of the many things Jim did was take care of “The Old Ones.” I am looking for people to pick up Jim’s torch in his honor. If you are interested, please talk with me.

It is my belief that MayDay can be supported by the constituents for whom it means so much, especially if everyone understands “what it takes” to “do MayDay.” This is why I write to you—to help you understand the challenges we face, and to ask for your support and ideas.

It takes both money and volunteers!

Let’s build a broad base of financial and volunteer support to assure the future sustainabilityof MayDay! In the Heart of the Beast Theatre cannot do it alone.

If everyone who comes to MayDay contributed $5, (less than the cost of a movie), then Mayday would flourish, end of story.


Sandy Spieler

MayDay Q&A

The Economics of MayDay:

MayDay has miraculously thrived in somewhat of a “gift economy”—a mixture of monetary donations from individuals, combined with labor and vision donations from many, many volunteers, along with a cadre of artists and organizers hired for MayDay who blend countless hours of volunteer labor within their honorariums fees.

Some questions you might have:

Who Produces MayDay?

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre is responsible for the production of Mayday. It is a year-round process for our staff—fundraising, organizing, training artists, securing permits, with addressing logistical and creative questions that take all of our skills to support the community in producing the final event.

Does the City of Minneapolis sponsor MayDay?

No. The city lauds MayDay as a glorious example of a community art event. However, we get no financial support from the City. We pay for all the police services ($3,100), street permits, and expenses.

Does the Minnespolis Park System support MayDay?

Powderhorn Park is very helpful for MayDay, but we receive no funds from the Park. Rather, we pay $4,500 to the park, and an additional $2,000 fee for security. We also lend puppets for a Halloween Event at the park, in exchange for staging the MayDay Festival in Powderhorn Park.

How is the MayDay budget structured and why the reduction this year?


People and people services: (fulltime and part-time artists, organizers, security, traffic
control, recycling, etc.): $91,290* (note: this represents about 80 people)
Powderhorn Park Fee: $4,500
Printing, promotion, and fundraising mailings: $6,700
Supplies for puppets: $2,500*
Equipment rental (porta-potties, sound systems, trucks): $8,100
Space rental: $9,500
Miscellany (volunteer food, tee shirts, permits, etc.): $6,545


Earned fees (vendors, information booths, join-in fees): $21,500
Concessions (tee-shirts, posters): $6,000
Ad sales for the program: $10,000
Solicited contributions before Mayday: $32,000
Contributions collected on MayDay: $12,250
Grant from COMPAS/United Arts: $6,750
Sponsorships: $30,000 (note: not certain of this yet)
In the Heart of the Beast General Operating support: $9,650 (note: not certain of this yet)
TOTAL INCOME: $129,150
*With expenses, supplies for puppets are only $2,500, with a priority on people costs: $91,290. We are proud of that.
All our income is uncertain and mostly raised from many donations of small amounts.

It takes both money and volunteers! Over the years, as the MayDay Parade and Festival grew, there have many added organizational expenses for permits, fees, staff, and more. Many people do not realize that MayDay costs a lot of money—that it is a year-long project to assure its wonderfulness each year. In the Heart of the Beast Theatre subsidizes the expenses from its general operating support, and began an increased focus both on donations for the day of MayDay itself and on community group sponsorships. The recent years have been difficult for two main reasons:

1) With the general economic downturn, HOBT has had less to offer from its general operating support.

2) Two years in a row of unfortunate weather really hurt our donations the day of MayDay itself (2 years ago we had frigid weather of 35 degrees all day, and this past year MayDay was delayed one week due to rain).

Our budget cutback this year is hopefully realistic, but not optimistic about the weather: it’s a 33% reduction. The cuts were all taken in people hired—other expenses remain fixed. For instance, I have hired only 7 artists, instead of the 14 of last year. There are 6 Festival Coordinators instead of 9. MayDay staff reductions have me particularly concerned for the smooth and safe running of the public parade-building workshops, with hundreds of attendees, as well as for running MayDay itself smoothly and safely. To do the work, we will need additional volunteers.

Each year we rely on about 200 volunteers to produce Mayday, not counting who is in the parade or ceremony. The more years someone volunteers, the more skilled they are. That helps us greatly. Volunteering can be as little as a one-time deal on MayDay itself, or as long as the 4 weeks of consistent support we need for the public workshops beforehand. This is especially crucial in 2013 as we hire fewer artists.

Could you be a workshop volunteer this year? We will need help finding Block Hosts. Would you be one? Could you be a volunteer on the day of MayDay to help set up or tear down the Festival?

Can Mayday be sustained by many people, or by several big corporations (as some recommended)?

I believe MayDay can be sustained by the strength of the neighborhood, built by donations from people who want it to continue as a community art-making, vision-stretching, life-affirming event. If everyone who comes to MayDay contributed $5, (less than the cost of a movie), then Mayday would flourish, end of story. 30,000 people each giving 5 dollars: that is $150,000!
We need your help to keep MayDay with its freedom of expression rising honestly from the community. Would you really wish to see a corporation brand MayDay with their logo? Coca Cola, for instance—do you remember the 2007 Mayday theme of water (“Somos Agua”) with its plea to end the proliferation of plastic bottled water and the selling of water for a profit? Coca Cola is a major producer of bottled water (Dasani). Would they have allowed the community to speak negatively about privatized water?

Lets then build a broad base of financial and volunteer support to assure the future sustainability of MayDay! In the Heart of the Beast Theatre cannot do it alone.

How do we build a broad base of financial support? (of 30,000!)

Are there those among you who would step forward to inspire a group of your friends to support MayDay financially? Say, 10 or 20 friends? One idea is to set goals for various teams of people, then have those teams come to a dinner in the “parade-build” workshop the night before it all begins (April 5th). Another idea is to host fundraising breakfasts and brunches on the day of the event. Teams can be made up of children, teens, beautiful young adults, families, old timers, you name it. You probably have better ideas than I do! Who is it that loves MayDay?

Are there organizations or clubs that could be a sponsor of MayDay, such as your co-op, or church?

What other ideas do you have?

We now ask for donations on the day of MayDay itself (such as when people purchase tickets to events). How could we do this in a fun, successful way?

If the MayDay Parade and Festival is to have a long life, inspiring and delighting generations yet to come, it must have the community’s financial and volunteer support. That is the simple fact of it. Now is the time to help continue this tradition.

Looking forward to MayDay Meetings and MayDay, Sandy

8 thoughts on “Make MayDay happen: Challenges of MayDay need your ideas and your support

  1. SANDY,

    You know if I was in Minneapolis I would be doing ALL I could physically to lend a hand of support to you and that theater.

    What can I do from afar? My wheels are turning. I will find a way to help, and please dont hesitate to ask of me anything. Mayday is a necessary event and I believe it WILL find a way to happen in some shape or form.

    I so MISS my beloved community back home.



  2. I’m nearly 100% positive that $50k could be raised in a matter of months from kickstarter small donors. People are familiar with crowd funding now. That plus the ability to SMS donate the day of (which has been great!) can raise a lot from small donors. Maybe there needs to be a paid fundraiser that is also cultivating some big money individual sponsorships? MayDay is an institution in south minneapolis, there are plenty of people who wouldn’t let it disappear. More importantly, why would the director of HOTB even think that not sponsoring MayDay was an acceptable proposal.

  3. Sandy,  you asked how this could be made fun…MayDay already fun, could this be participatory, maybe the donor buys a MayDay prayerflag to run up on lines in the park, or maybe its something like a paper flower that can be added to a MayDay prayertower…whatever the small item, could they be made in a separate workshop by volunteers maybe less creatively or physically abled, so as not to overload the existing workshops…or if this is too much, maybe MayDay balloons to release all together during the ceremony? maybe this becomes part of the Theme this year?(since it already is):

    maybe its about not taking thisl precious Now for granted

    Much Love and Thanks

    one of your old paraders


  4. This may not be obvious to folx who don’t work in the field, but Kickstarter is essentially a less-reliable version of Razoo/ (they have nearly identical GUIs).  The problem with Kickstarter from a non-profit perspective is that if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get the money. With GiveMN, any amount donated goes to the organization, minus fees. The best way to donate remains by cash or check, since you’re not automatically losing 3% to the credit card companies/Razoo/whoever.

    As a long time fan of, participant in, and contributor to the Parade and HOBT, I’d really like to see more people stepping up and supporting this amazing organization at every level. As an employee of an arts non-profit, I know that virtually every arts organization in the Twin Cities is in the same boat as HOBT. Unfortunately, the money, from both private funders and the government, just isn’t there. There are a record number of organizations applying for every grant dollar, and soliciting contributions from the same small pool of wealthy donors. If things are going to get better for the arts, small donors MUST step up and pick up the slack. It’s not the most just solution, but it’s the only one available to us.

  5. Last year at the event, there were signs with a number to text donations to.  “To donate $10, text. Mayday to…”  If this was posted somewhere, I would do it right now.  I imagine a lot of others would, too.

  6. This was my Mothers favorite event of the year. You honored her with. A Puppet of her. Thanx for that. It was beautiful. I wasn’t there to see it, living as I do in cal. However Kathy Laughlin sent a video of it., but I have traveled there, arranging my visit so as to be there in May. Certainly this must continue. I am so sorry u artists have to concern ur selves with money. I can just imagine the creativity that would flow if it wasn’t diverted. I don’t know how I can help, I’m so far away and at 83not as spry as I used to be. Send out some call for help that we can mail out. Be it kickstart or any other org or just from u. There can be no denying, no excuse, no reason for this gigantic powerful, contribution to us all.

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