A group of community leaders are stepping up to help defray expenses after a rain insurance claim for the canceled Aug. 6 Rock the Park concert was denied.

The nonprofit Columbus Area Arts Council faces about $135,000 in costs for the Mill Race Park show, after lightning and thunderstorms led organizers to cancel the concert. It was to have featured disco headliner KC and the Sunshine Band.

Several business and community leaders have already pledged more than $20,000 to defray those expenses. And they are asking others to join the effort and be a ray of sunshine for the arts council.

Republic Publisher Chuck Wells, among the founders of the event and still chairman of the committee that plans it, encouraged the idea of donations late last week.

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Settling bills for the concert — including fees for the band — depleted about $90,000 in the arts council’s Rock The Park account, which had included seven years of proceeds from the event.

Not only that, but the arts council also was prepared to dip into about $45,000 of its general operating budget to pay the remainder of obligations associated with the concert. The agency, which has an overall annual budget of $614,559, already was working with an anticipated deficit of $57,834 for this year.

Anthony Johnson, agency manager for Johnson-Witkemper Insurance, said that the company is donating $10,000 to the cause. He also is making phone calls to others to encourage others to give.

“Helping the arts council is helping the community,” Johnson said.

Evansville-based Old National Bancorp, which has three banking offices in Columbus, also has pledged $10,000, Wells said.

The financial drain from the cancelled concert leaves in limbo the future of the popular outdoor event that has drawn 6,000 or more people its past three performances at Mill Race Park, including last year’s Charlie Daniels concert.

The arts council’s $75,000 rain insurance policy with a Cincinnati firm, administered through Johnson-Witkemper Insurance in Columbus, mandated that a minimum of three-fourths of an inch of rain had to fall between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. Aug. 6, the date of this year’s show, to collect on the insurance.

The policy measures the rain along Jackson Street near the park and along Franklin Street, said Kathryn Armstrong, executive director of the arts council. Rain is not measured at the park, she said.

However, measurements showed that .64 of an inch fell in that period on Jackson and Franklin streets, the arts council said.

Stakeholders will be revisiting all matters this fall related to the annual concert.

“The question here isn’t ‘What are going to do about rain insurance?'” Wells said. “The broader question is ‘What are we going to do about the event?’

“This is a catastrophic financial situation for Rock The Park and for the arts council. We worked seven years to build up that reserve fund.”

Armstrong said that although she was disappointed in the claim denial, she is heartened by the latest community backing.

“I am very grateful for the support,” she said. “That kind of help is another one of the great things about living and working here.”

The event was canceled just before gates were due to open an hour before the show — and after two substantial downpours and when weather forecasts showed lightning moving in. The decision to cancel was for the sake of crowd safety, Armstrong said.

Armstrong and the arts council board leaders said in May before she assumed her post the following month that all arts council programs would be examined and evaluated this year to best determine the nonprofit agency’s future. She said that will be particularly true with Rock The Park.

Board members will consider Rock the Park’s future during a mid-September retreat and likely make a decision by early 2017, Armstrong said.

This marked the first weather cancellation for the event that began in 2008 as a way to celebrate music and fun in the park, although Our Hospice Labor Day weekend concerts at the same outdoor venue have been impacted by rain three times over the past four years, including two outright cancellations.

One challenge for the event has been that it is too large to be moved indoors easily, Armstrong said.

Columbus North High School’s Memorial gym once packed more than 6,000 people for a Platters and Drifters Our Hospice of South Central Indiana concert in 1988, when such concerts were new locally.

But when Our Hospice moved its Three Dog Night concert to the gym in 2012, that show drew only about 3,000 people. That was far below the free 10,000-attendance crowds the Hospice concert was used to seeing, leaving organizers coming up short in fundraising.

Armstrong mentioned that a backup venue such as the gym defeats Rock the Park’s purpose of celebrating music in the actual park.

Plus, Wells mentioned that because of concerns about a stage setup, lights and other details, a location move would have to be decided probably by Tuesday for a weekend event — too far out to accurately predict the weather.

“That’s really impractical,” he said. “And then, if it doesn’t rain, you can take a huge hit financially (with a smaller crowd).”

Armstrong said the financial hit the arts council has taken from Rock The Park further underscores the importance of the Oct. 22 unCommon Cause arts fundraiser, its biggest of the year.

“We need people’s (financial) help now more than maybe ever before,” she said.

Pull Quote

“That kind of help (community donors stepping up) is another one of the great things about living and working here.”

— Kathryn Armstrong, executive director, Columbus Area Arts Council

How to help

Donations to help the Columbus Area Arts Council with Rock the Park costs can be made at artsincolumbus.org. Click on the “make a donation” button on the lower right side of the screen.

Also, the upcoming annual unCommon Cause arts fundraiser Oct. 22 offers another chance to help.

Information: 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.