1.5 million tax dollars to save... a parade?
December 9, 2003 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Expensive clowns. Some Wisconsin senators want to "save Milwaukee's Circus Parade by giving $1.5 million in tax dollars to the Baraboo-based Circus World Museum."
posted by Tubes (22 comments total)
As one with little interest in circuses or parades, I experience this massively-hyped annual event only as a day-long gridlocked PITA. Apparently I'm missing something. Is bailing out a floundering parade a vital government function?
posted by Tubes at 9:07 AM on December 9, 2003

I can't say I'll miss tripping over the thousands of lawn chairs people put on the streets along the parade route days in advance to get a 'good' spot either. I never understood the big deal with the parade or why people got so crazy over watching the exact same event they watched the year before, and the year before, and the year before...

It's a nice tradition and all, but if it can't survive financially on it's own, then it can't survive. I could think of a lot more useful and productive ways to spend $1.5Mil in WI..
posted by djc at 9:28 AM on December 9, 2003

One of government's function is to provide assistance in preserving a country's cultural heritage.

I would argue that circuses were an institution of American entertainment before radio and television, and deserve the government help in preservation.

If you don't like circuses, that's fine. But as a pre-vaudeville entertainment, you can find its influence today in things like reality television and sketch comedy.
posted by rocketman at 9:31 AM on December 9, 2003

Also consider that the 1.5million is money spent to help businesses in Milwaukee - the parade draws a huge crowd and no doubt helps the city's economy.
posted by rocketman at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2003

Clowns are evil.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:37 AM on December 9, 2003

Clowns are *not* evil.

Clowns have an established place in our society. Stand-up comedians are in the clown family tree. Steve Urkel was, in essence, a clown. "Screech" from Saved by the Bell - he was a clown.

Most sitcoms have a "clown" character, but that character often is not dressed in traditional clown costume - they're exaggerated in a different way.

I'm originally from Baraboo, and have dabbled in clownery, so I'm an amateur expert here. Clowns aren't evil - they're just misunderstood.
posted by rocketman at 9:53 AM on December 9, 2003

Steve Urkel was, in essence, a clown. "Screech" from Saved by the Bell - he was a clown.

Ummm, like I said...

I am of course just giving you a hard time. On a more serious note, though, what's with the strange attitudes in our culture towards clowns? Between the phobias and the fetishes, I can't help but wonder.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2003

I've always hated the Circus Parade (is there anything scarier than Ernest Borgnine in clownface?) but it does have a pretty huge economic impact on both the city and the state. Gotta spend money to make money...
posted by mimi at 10:16 AM on December 9, 2003

I doubt there really are that many fetishes and phobias - 99% of it has got to be people making a joke of clowns.


Well, you know what I mean.

And cultural heritage is all well and good, but the governor's office made a good point in noting that the state coffers are not exactly overflowing right now. Also, I think it's weird how the republicans are pushing forward this big splurge on something cultural and the democrats are going "no no we can't afford this right now". Welcome to bizarro world.
posted by kavasa at 10:27 AM on December 9, 2003

Welcome to bizarro world.
My thought exactly.
Also, thanks to mimi for the informative link. (The non-Borgnine one.)
posted by Tubes at 11:16 AM on December 9, 2003

All of this uproar about relatively minor amounts of money being spent on random boondoggles or frivolities distracts people from the real problems with public finance--why are we spending so much taxpayer money on corporate welfare, bribes to "potential employers" in the form of massive tax breaks (with no accountability when, as is almost always the case, the promised new jobs never materialize), and other plutocrat pork?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:28 AM on December 9, 2003

We already have a government program for taxpayer funding of unmarketable art. It's called the National Endowment for the Arts.

Now if only the Milwaukee Circus could get itself classified as art...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:33 AM on December 9, 2003

Despite the fact that, while I live within walking distance of the Circus parade route, I would never go to it, and had to find the most backwards route to get to work when the last one happened. I think the parade needs to be continued. It's something fun for the kids and the display down at the lakefront is actually interesting to look at when your unemployed and have nothing better to do.

I'm suprised more corporate donors can't be found though.
posted by drezdn at 11:33 AM on December 9, 2003

Returning to mimi's link for a moment... that article states: "... more than $25 million pumped into the Milwaukee economy for the three days before, during and after the parade, and $75 million throughout Wisconsin for the 10-day period from when the train leaves Baraboo to when it leaves Milwaukee after the parade."

OK, given those figures, maybe it makes sense for the state to cough up tax funds to get it rolling. But I'm also wondering how exactly is this $100 million pumped into the economy? Are many people traveling to see this thing -- is it lots of food & fuel & lodging? Or is it mostly lawn chair sales? I'm trying not to be overly cynical about the Circus Parade but I'm curious where the revenue comes from.
posted by Tubes at 11:57 AM on December 9, 2003

Plus it's always fun when the horses break loose and run into the crowd. (Sorry, couldn't find a link.)

I'm sure the numbers are a wee inflated but even if you figure it's 25% too high, that still isn't bad. Evidently it's the 3rd largest parade in the country (whoopie do!) so yeah, people probably do travel for it.

And yes, I certainly find it ironic that it's the Republicans who are championing this, on the merit of sustaining culture and history. Especially so when social and educational programs and snow plows are getting cut across the state... (thanks to Thompson's swell planning).
posted by mimi at 12:21 PM on December 9, 2003

posted by mimi at 12:31 PM on December 9, 2003

Circus World! I've never been to the parade, but the Circus World museum is worth the trip if you're within reasonable driving distance, and have any kind of love for circus-type ephemera. Gorgeous original posters and the most beautiful restored - and some even lovelier unrestored - circus wagons, all maintained by people who truly have a love for the history of circus entertainment. I should show you all the pictures I took there a couple of years ago. Some of my favorite pictures ever.

Don't put quarters in the calliopes unless you can run far away very quickly.
posted by kittyb at 1:09 PM on December 9, 2003

Kittyb beat me to the punch. I enjoy going to see the Circus Train as it rolls through Madison en route to Milwaukee, but I've never gotten a chance to go to the actual parade. Thus, I'd feel a bit silly arguing that the money should be spent to save the parade--I hope that those who enjoy going to see it and want to see it continue as a part of Milwaukee's annual events and cultural tradition will work to save and support it.

But Circus World Museum....that's a different story. I go to the museum at least once each summer, and love walking among the beautiful wagons and incredible vintage posters, soaking up circus history. In these days of only-in-indoor-arena circuses like the Combined Shows and the Shrine Circus, a trip to Circus World Museum is also a rare chance to see a circus under the big top, the way it was meant to be seen.

Attendance is down at the museum, leading to falling revenue for the foundation in general, and problems that lead even deeper than just the chance that the Circus Parade might be off. If you live in the Midwest, or happen to be driving through on I-90/94, skip Wisconsin Dells and spend an afternoon at Circus World. Take your family and kids. Take all your friends. All you have to do is enjoy yourselves and that's more than you can hope for in a solution to most tax spending debates.
posted by Inkslinger at 1:51 PM on December 9, 2003

I will third Kitty's comment, Circus World museum is worth the trip to Baraboo if you're in the Midwest. My older daughter (4 yrs old) loved it. They have a show where the kids can be in a play circus, and then the real show under the big top. Lot's of demos and displays and of course the wagons. It was actually one of the better vacations we've had.
posted by Outlawyr at 2:54 PM on December 9, 2003

Also consider that the 1.5million is money spent to help businesses in Milwaukee - the parade draws a huge crowd and no doubt helps the city's economy.

Yea, just like the Brewers new Ballpark helps the Milwaukee Economy.

Too Bad Tommy Thompson isn't the Gov....We could here him say "stick it to 'em"!

I'm sure the hotels and restraunts will happly chip in funds to help, given how well the statium has worked out.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:21 PM on December 9, 2003

I grew up in Baraboo, and CWM was the school field trip every single spring.

Personally, I think the wagons are the best part. The big top show is okay, the magic act loses its charm after you turn thirteen, but those wagons. Wow.

A friend of mine from high school has done freelance restoration work on some. It's interesting to see how they do it.
posted by rocketman at 7:36 PM on December 9, 2003

Inkslinger made my point, roughly:

The circus museum ain't no Disneyland, but what in Wisconsin is? (I'm from Madison.)

The museum is a major tourist draw (some people like clowns) and I'm sure the $1.5 million will draw that much and more back to the community (and back to the government in sales and income taxes).
posted by o2b at 8:07 PM on December 9, 2003

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