On Monday, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau board agreed to provide $75,000 to Columbus Preservation Society for the 2022 Columbus Pilgrimage, ending a simmering dispute between the CVB and its non-profit subsidiary, the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, which has operated the annual event and the Preservation Society, a group of homeowners whose properties have been among the main features of the Pilgrimage.
The Preservation Society was founded in 2019 partially in response to criticism historic home owners had on the way the Spring Tour of Homes was produced. The homeowners said they weren’t being properly compensated for the cost in preparing their homes for the event, but the criticism went well beyond that. The group felt money generated by the event — CVB Director Nancy Carpenter had often calculated the economic impact in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — could help identify and restore other historic sites as well as tell a more inclusive story of the city’s history.
The split, at least initially, was not amicable. The CVB agreed to turn over the home tour to the homeowners, but wanted to retain control over all other ancillary events that have become part of Pilgrimage.
The idea of two organizations staging parallel events has always seemed dubious to us.
Monday’s agreement will allow the Preservation Society full control and responsibility for the event, which will return March 23-April 17 after a two-year hiatus.
Preservation Society members promise a new way of looking at Pilgrimage, one that tells a broader, more inclusive story of the city. Better stated, we believe what is needed is a more accurate telling of that history, The Preservation Society promises to do that.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing Pilgrimage is understanding what it is and what it should be. Is it a tourist event or a community event? Can it be both? Should it be both?
Certainly, the abundance of those grand old homes have great appeal to visitors. But those homes tell a very narrow story, a story centered largely around the lives of the rich and powerful and prominent at the height of their influence and prestige.
But as a community event, an event that focuses primarily on hoop skirts and homes most of us could never have afford to live in has little appeal.
Tell us our story, and you’ll have our interest.
That’s the challenge the Preservation Society has accepted, and it’s interesting to note that there was a fair amount of haggling over how many CVB tax dollars should be directed to the “new” Pilgrimage.
Carpenter noted the $75,000 finally approved by the board exceeded the amount of money devoted to five other CVB-supported festivals combined.
What she neglected to note is that the CVB devoted far more than $75,000 to previous Pilgrimages ($116,000 in 2016, according to records obtained by the Preservation Society in 2019 when it first announced its intention to assume control of the event).
To whom much is given, much is required.
If the “new” Pilgrimage proves to be merely the result of a power struggle over who’s running the show, we question the wisdom of the funding.
If, instead, Pilgrimage evolves into something that will better serve our community, both as a tourism event and a community event, it may prove a wise investment.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.