The Festival of Nations, the Midwest's oldest and longest-running annual multicultural celebration, is ending after nearly 90 years in St. Paul.
The International Institute of Minnesota announced Thursday that it was discontinuing the four-day event, which had taken place almost every year since 1932. It drew about 14,000 people when it was last held at RiverCentre in 2019.
The nonprofit put the festival on pause in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the rising cost of holding such events, from having to add security to reserving a venue, scuttled the festival for good, said Jane Graupman, the institute's executive director.
"Like you're hearing about a lot of events, it's hard to sustain," she said. "COVID kind of gave a lot of people doing these kinds of events pause to reflect on, 'Does this make sense for us to do?' "
In Minneapolis, the Basilica Block Party was put on hold this year, one of several local summer music festivals called off as organizers confront soaring expenses. St. Paul-based Northern Spark, the annual free dusk-to-dawn arts festival, announced in January it was shutting down, citing the lack of funding.
And the 110-year-old Ramsey County Fair, last held in 2019 in Maplewood, was nixed this year due to several issues.
For nonprofits with limited budgets, holding in-person events has become even more challenging financially, Graupman said. The International Institute once made money off the Festival of Nations, she said, but had been losing money on it in recent years.
"We really didn't take this decision lightly," Graupman said. "People just had this incredible passion for the festival so that's really hard — disappointing people in that way."
The festival showcased more than 100 cultures through music, dance, art and food. It was a tradition for many attendees and volunteers, some of whom helped out at the event for six decades, Graupman said.
The International Institute considered scaling back the festival, holding it at a smaller venue or partnering with other organizations, but couldn't find a partner or way to sustain it. The festival took up employees' time for planning and required the support of nearly 1,000 volunteers, Graupman said.
She declined to say how much it cost to hold the Festival of Nations each year, but said revenue was limited to ticket sales. The nonprofit, which has 81 employees and an annual budget of about $8 million, has also paused a gala held yearly on International Women's Day.
"Sustaining a large event is not easy to do," Graupman said.
The International Institute in recent years has been serving a growing number of refugees and immigrants, especially Afghans and Ukrainians fleeing their countries. The nonprofit is one of four refugee resettlement providers in the Twin Cities, and connects new Americans to housing and other services.
The institute has expanded its English language classes and job training programs to meet the increasing need, Graupman said.
"We have to focus on that work to make sure we have the funding to provide those services," she said. "That is really where we're putting our energy."