By, flickr
By, flickr

En Español

The city this year eliminated the grant program that funds the festival of altars at Garfield Park during the annual Day of the Dead celebration, leaving organizers scrambling to come up with $9,000.

The Marigold Project, a Mission-based nonprofit, coordinates the event, commissions artists to create the large altars and pays for dumpsters, port-a-potties and cleanup. The November 2 event attracts some 15,000 residents to celebrate the traditional Mexican holiday honoring the dead.

“It’s a strong cultural touchstone event for the Mission,” board member Kevin Mathieu said. “I think we’ll be able to raise money, but we’re really counting on community contributions. It’s not a tremendously expensive event.”

Each year in Mexico and across the United States, family and friends build altars for the Day of the Dead — or Dia de los Muertos — on November 1 and 2. Decorated with flowers, religious symbols and food offerings, the altars honor loved ones who have passed away and celebrate the cycle of life and death. For years, San Francisco residents have used Garfield Park as a space to build their altars; this year will mark the 28th annual celebration here.

Mathieu estimates that the event will cost only 60 cents per attendee if the expected 15,000 people attend. As in the past, the event will begin with a procession through the Mission and finish with altars honoring and celebrating the dead at Harrison and 25th.

This year, the San Francisco Arts Commission cut the Neighborhood Festival Grant, which supports smaller community celebrations, to help reduce the city’s deficit, said director of grants E. San San Wong. She said they hope to reinstate the grant program next year.

“The city has a deficit — I think that’s the big story,” she said. “I’m sorry there’s not more we can do to help them. Everybody is dealing with the economic recession, everybody is dealing with the cut.”

The Marigold Project is intent on keeping the event non-commercial and grassroots. While many festivals get financial support because of the associated vending opportunities, the Day of the Dead celebration doesn’t lend itself to that, Mathieu said.

District 9 Supervisor David Campos is aware of the impact of the deficit on local organizations, and according to legislative aide Sheila Chung Hagen, he’s concerned.

“He wants to work with community organizations to find solutions, whether it’s finding partners or more reasonable permitting,” she said. “It’s a tight fit for all of our groups.”

If enough funds are raised by the community, $2,000 will go to commission local artists to build four large altars in the park, as they have in the past. The rest of the money will go to the required permits, security and trash cleanup, and to print posters and fliers.

“Five years ago there [weren’t] these big park fees, we didn’t have to have a dumpster and port-a-potties and security guards, we didn’t have defined hours,” Mathieu said.

Next year, Mathieu said, the group will be more prepared and will apply for additional grants, but because the festival is so low-cost, it does not qualify for some grants. The Grants for the Arts program, which is funded by the city’s hotel tax, requires organizations to have a minimum annual budget of $35,000. The Marigold Project is run by volunteers.

“It may mean we will have to hire or create a paid staff to qualify — spend money to get the money,” he said. “I think it is funny that for an event with such impact locally and known worldwide, we are actually too small budget-wise to receive funds from the city by their current criteria.”

The Marigold Project’s website shows it has raised $637 so far, but Mathieu said the Mission Merchant’s Association also donated $1,000. If they raise more than the projected budget, the excess funds will go toward next year’s event.

“I was looking at the numbers and seeing what everybody else gets for their procession and parades,” Mathieu said. “We’re going to try to apply for things differently next year so we can qualify. This year we got basically hosed.”

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Hadley Robinson trekked westward from a small town in Michigan to answer the call of the Mission. She loves walking out her front door and feeling like every cuisine, cultural event, friend, opportunity and adventure awaits her.

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