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Endymion Thinks Big

Myths and realities of super krewes

(page 2 of 3)

 


Paying the Bill
The quest to keep the offerings fresh is expensive for every krewe, but more so for super krewes such as Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus, which are known for the length of their parades and oversized floats.

Some of the krewes have departed from policies followed by old-line Carnival groups and financed their growth not only through membership dues and bead sales, but also with the sale of tickets to their annual parties.

Tickets to the Endymion Extravaganza this year range from $150 up to $230 if food and drink are included, Muniz says. The revenue helps cover fees paid to the Superdome, catering services and entertainment – the krewe will pay Clarkson $300,000 for her performance.

“Instead of putting on an event that costs us, we put on an event that makes money for the organization,” Muniz says. He calls the extravaganza proceeds “icing on the cake” after the krewe collects dues of about $1,000 per member, and sells each member signature bead-and-trinket packages, which this year include inflatable beach balls.

As a nonprofit, Endymion uses the net proceeds to cover its growth. Krewe president Dan Kelly, who owns Carnival supplier Beads by the Dozen, says big costs for Endymion in recent years included about $300,000 spent to upgrade the captain’s float and incorporate new lighting, and construction of a new float warehouse, or “den,” at a cost of almost $3 million.

“We had about $700,000 to put down and got a loan for the rest, which we paid off in three years,” Kelly says. “We don’t have any bills that we can’t pay.”

Many Carnival krewes adhere to a code of secrecy about their inner workings, and some have become particularly sensitive about financial matters in the wake of fiscal stumbles by a few of their peers. Several suburban parade groups have folded or taken a hiatus due to financial pressures.

In New Orleans, the Krewe of Bacchus made news last summer when several of its members sued the organization to gain access to its financial records. The move followed a reported hike in membership dues from $1,000 to $1,450. The lawsuit named as defendants Bacchus Captain Owen “Pip” Brennan Jr. and his son Owen Brennan III.

While the suit only sought access to records, postings on a Facebook page called “Save the Krewe of Bacchus” suggested that krewe members had larger concerns. While most postings were later removed from the page, news reports last July quoted Facebook comments criticizing the krewe for paying a $138,000 salary to the younger Brennan, as krewe director, and close to $100,000 spent for unspecified travel and out-of-town events. Neither of the Brennans could be reached to comment for this article.

A statement released by the Brennans last summer in response to the criticism stated: “In order to continue to move forward, our Board of Directors has approved an increase in dues and a building fund assessment to lease-purchase our own den ... if there are members of Bacchus who would prefer not to move forward with us, they have every right to resign their membership.”

Robert Kutcher, one of five Bacchus members who sued the organization, declines to comment on the current dues or reported dissension in the ranks, saying only that the records dispute was resolved. “The suit had to do with the ability to inspect the records,” Kutcher says. “We saw the records and the issues were resolved and we’re rolling in February.”

Whatever the outcome, the flap points up the challenges of making Carnival organizations financially viable. No matter what their size, all krewes are dependent on members’ willingness to work as volunteers. For krewe officers, this often means donating substantial amounts of time not just during Carnival season but throughout the year to plan minute details of the parades and parties; arrange entertainment; communicate with members; prepare and mail event invitations; collect dues; and manage bead purchases and ticket sales.

“It’s never-ending,” says Orpheus Captain Borey, who estimates he puts in more than 15 hours a week on Orpheus business. “Some people play golf, I do Orpheus,” he says.

Orpheus employs two full-time workers in its office and adds a part-time staffer in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, Borey says. Like Endymion, the krewe’s revenue comes from dues, bead sales and the after-parade party, known as the Orpheuscapade.

This year’s event, celebrating the organization’s 20th anniversary, will feature krewe founder and Broadway singing star Harry Connick Jr., among other performers. Borey estimates Orpheus will spend $1.5 million on its parade and ball, which is expected to draw 6,000 people.

Ask krewe members why they’re willing to donate so much time to activities that people elsewhere might see as frivolous and they’ll inevitably answer that it’s a labor of love.

Muniz – who likely puts in more time than any other captain given the size of Endymion and the fact that the krewe pays only one part-time employee – admits that many people have questioned his sanity. “They think I’m nuts,” he says.

But he adds that nearly everyone who dips into the Endymion experience for the first time ends up coming back for more. “We’ve got 700 members who live outside Louisiana and come in every year to participate,” he says.



Above: Instead of holding a costly ball the Endymion Extravaganza makes money for the organization. Krewe captain Ed Muniz call the proceeds “icing on the cake.”

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