Pandemic pushes Memphis in May to $1.7M financial loss

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The annual Memphis in May International Festival announced a record loss of $1.795 million after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel this year’s events.

The 44-year-old festival — which comprises the Beale Street Music Festival, World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, international cultural events and more — had reported revenue increases for the the past four years.

Organizers called this year “devastating,” and unprecedented. Previously, they said, the worst financial loss in the festival’s history was $595,000 in 1998.

“The challenges presented by the pandemic represent the most difficult period our organization has ever faced, and the challenges are ongoing,” said James L. Holt, President and CEO of Memphis in May, said in a statement Thursday.

Holt said 96% of the festival’s revenue is generated through ticket sales, and the nonprofit group receives no direct taxpayer funding. Even the organization’s annual meeting, where the financial report is issued, was cancelled this year.

The group said economic impact studies showed MIM generated $398 million for Memphis and Shelby County, along with $11.2 million in tax revenue.

When the pandemic hit this year, festival organizers first postponed events until the fall, then announced its complete cancellation in June.

The festival is slated to honor the country of Ghana in 2021.

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