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Big Sundance

January 17, 2013

The Sundance Film Festival is starting again soon, and some recent chatter online got me curious about its financials. Sundance is a non profit organization, so it solicits and accepts donations to fund its operations. But how well off is the non profit? How much revenue does it get from the festival itself? The most recent financial information I could find is from the 2011 festival. That year they made $9 million from the film festival, $16 million from donations, and another million on earnings from investments and the like. Their expenses were $24 million, giving them a $3.5 million profit.

Their balance sheet shows $10 million in cash, $10 million in additional promised donations, and $14 million in investments. Clearly, the Sundance Film Festival is a vibrant, fiscally sound organization.

So why did they receive over a million dollars in government funding?

On page nine of the form 990 they filed with the IRS it states the Sundance Institute received $1.3 million in “government grants”. I don’t know which government agencies comprise that $1.3 million. But a search on transparent.utah.gov shows the state of Utah gave $316,000 in 2012, $319,000 in 2011, $216,000 in 2010, and $190,000 in 2009. that’s over a million dollars in the last four years.

It’s possible that some of that money paid for advertising at the festival. It would make sense for the state to promote itself to festival goers in an effort to boost tourism. But it doesn’t appear that a whole lot of official Utah promotion is going on during the film festival. And on the state’s website the payments are labeled as “grants”, which leads me to believe that’s exactly what they are – a direct subsidy to a fiscally sound, multi million dollar enterprise whose financial statements reveal they certainly don’t need the money.

One could argue that Utah gets a big bang for its buck by hosting the festival. Some estimate Sundance brings in $80 million to the state’s economy. But wouldn’t Utah get that $80 million regardless? Sundance isn’t barely scraping by and in desperate need of state funding to stay afloat. We could easily put that money to more productive uses and still receive the financial benefit Sundance represents.

If the state’s Office of Economic Development is looking to grow Utah business and economy, certainly there’s a better place to use all those grant funds than an already well established, growing, and self sufficient multi million dollar enterprise like the Sundance Institute.

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