New plan crafted for Hodgepodge

Hodgepodge, a community tradition for nearly 40 years, will likely look a little different this year. The people running it definitely will.

“When the MACC Foundation decided to change their mission, the questions arose ‘Who owns Hodgepodge? Who’s going to put it on? Who’s it going to benefit? Is anybody going to benefit and is anybody going to put it on?’” said Councilman Dick Gee, the Town Council’s liaison for the Mountain Arts Community Center, its board and operations.

Those questions were tackled by the independent MACC Foundation (now the SMArt Foundation) and the town-appointed MACC Board individually, he said, before a discussion last week that led to the town taking the reins.

“At [that] meeting of the MACC Board and the new SMArt Foundation it was pretty clear neither board had the intention to put Hodgepodge on for a number of reasons,” said Gee, listing the primary fact that neither organization has the funds to do so.

The town is now looking to hire Chattanooga Market owner Paul Smith, who successfully turned the faltering downtown operation into one of the top-rated farmers markets in the country, to take over Hodgepodge operations.

“The SMArt Foundation was fully prepared and expecting to continue to run Hodgepodge as we have been doing for the last four years with increasing success,” said SMArt Foundation president Paul Hendricks. “Until last week we thought that the town had no interest in assuming responsibility for Hodgepodge.

“The MACC Board voted for the town not to take on Hodgepodge, but the town voted to do it anyway and had apparently already approached people about running it. Frankly, this was a scenario I never anticipated, but we were trying hard to avoid any conflict with the town and had pretty much decided to go along with whatever the town decided.”

Smith’s contract, which is still being negotiated and finalized and includes payment provisions, is for this year’s event. Following that, a “purely business analysis of how it went as a fundraiser” will be conducted based on cost analyses, if he’s hired, and a decision made on whether to keep him — and Hodgepodge alive — moving forward, said MACC Director Barb Storm, who was tasked with finding an organizer for the event.

“He really knows what he’s doing. He’s done not only the market and brought great success to the market, but he’s run a couple other off-site venues just like ours,” she said. “He’s got the resources. We’ll be good, especially with his contacts of food vendors, musicians and craft vendors. I think this will be one of best [Hodgepodges] ever.”

She said it won’t necessarily be the same family-focused event it’s become at the hands of the MACC Foundation in years past, though.

About 10 vendors have already called inquiring about signing up for this year’s event — the single biggest fundraiser for the MACC — which happens annually in September, according to Storm. Although planning a large event such as this takes time, often upwards of a year, she said Smith “is confident whenever we get the contract hammered out and signed that there’s plenty of time to still organize [Hodgepodge].”

Last year, the MACC Foundation (formerly Friends of MACC), which had dedicated itself to raising money for the MACC, reported record-breaking fundraising totals for its cumulative 12-year existence. The decision to morph into the SMArt Foundation came on the heels of a town-drafted memorandum of agreement that told the independent organization how it could raise and spend those funds, according to Hendricks.

“The town said ‘You’ve been so successful. Now we’re going to put an agreement on you that will not allow you to continue to do what you’ve been doing so successfully, because we know better,’” he said as to the reason for the board’s new name and expanded mission to support the arts locally as opposed to one local art institution.

“We felt it was necessary and customary,” Gee said in regards to the town’s decision to require an MOA with Friends of MACC/SMArt and any other private organization raising money for a town-related purpose or using town facilities. “It’s just like any other vendor to the town: you have specifications when buying something, you have a contract and invoice of what they’re doing so the town has an idea of what’s going on.”

Aside from the fee paid to whoever is hired, 100 percent of proceeds raised from this year’s Hodgepodge will go to the MACC, said Storm. Last year she said the MACC Foundation reported a net of $6,000 from the event, but no related legal documents have ever been provided — or legally required — based on Hodgepodge or any of the group’s other MACC-related fundraising efforts.

In years past, when Hodgepodge was run by Friends of MACC, Storm said as much as $8,000-$10,000 was raised through the event.

“It was kind of a Catch-22 situation — ‘If you want to raise money for us you’ve got to do it this way,’” said Hendricks of the MOA, “but we couldn’t have raised any money. Sorry, but it costs money to raise money. At that point we realized we can’t function. I guess we could’ve gone back and said ‘No, we need to redo this,’ but at that point we felt there was such a chasm of misunderstanding about what we were doing.”

He noted that when originally formed, the group’s intention was to support the arts in the overall community, starting with the MACC.

“We decided it was time to get back to the original purpose,” he said. “We want to continue to support the MACC and arts, but we’ve got to do it our way. We know what works.”


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