FHET programming was suspended to evaluate the future of the nonprofit organization through a survey on FHET’s website, as the Gazette reported at the time. The outcome of that evaluation is still unclear.
“There have been no definitive decisions about future programming,” said Jonathan Clark, the new program coordinator at FHET. “For the moment, we’re just focusing on making the Lantern Festival a success. It’s such an important community event, the cemetery didn’t want to deprive people of a year without it.”
“After the festival, there will be announcements as to what programming will be held,” he added.
Clark did not elaborate on the trust’s other programming, and his only comment on the evaluation was, “The survey showed how much support the Trust had in the community and how important the lantern festival is.”
Clark is a former staffer at FHET who came back to organize the Lantern Festival at the cemetery’s request. The other two previous FHET staffers, Nini Colmore and former director Cecily Miller, have not returned. Miller resigned in January; Colmore and Clark were laid off at the same time. Clark said that he does not know how long his tenure at FHET will be.
The FHET is a separate organization from the cemetery’s board of directors. The FHET organizes cultural programming for the cemetery and acts as a friends’ group and fund-raiser for the cemetery. FHET and cemetery board apparently had tensions that led to the programming halt in January.
FHET has previously sponsored and run contemporary art initiatives, concerts, poetry readings, history tours, education programs and signature events such as the annual Lantern Festival and Day of the Dead celebrations at the cemetery.
The trust has also raised $2 million from over 1,400 donors to support its cultural programs, as well as preservation activities. Over 6,000 people attended last year’s events.
In a “planning update” sent to supporters in January, Bob Macleod, chairman of the Forest Hills Trust, wrote, “For several years, the Cemetery Board has indicated that it would like to see a change in the direction of the Trust’s programs. While supporting history walking tours and the popular Lantern Festival, the Cemetery has communicated that the arts and cultural programs of the Trust are not priorities.”
Macleod is also a former member of the separate nonprofit Forest Hills Cemetery Board of Directors.
George Milley, the president and CEO of Forest Hills Cemetery, did not return a Gazette phone call by press time. Macleod did not answer the Gazette’s emails.
A user planning survey, initiated in January, is still available at foresthillstrust.org
Although the Lantern Festival is inspired by Japanese Buddhist tradition, it includes many multicultural events throughout the day. A key part of the ritual is sending messages to dead loved ones, written on paper lanterns that are floated on Lake Hibiscus at sunset.
For more information, visit foresthillstrust.org or call 524-3150.