Forest Hills Trust may lose funding

If the Forest Hills Educational Trust (FHET), known for the yearly Lantern Festival at Forest Hills Cemetery, does not maintain last year’s level of cultural programming, it could lose its steady funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC), the Gazette has learned.

FHET programming was abruptly suspended in January, as the Gazette reported at the time. The Lantern Festival is scheduled for July 14, but all other programming remains suspended seven months later.

The FHET is a colleague in the MCC’s Cultural Investment Portfolio program, under which they are funded for a three-year cycle if they meet certain criteria.

“Part of the criteria is providing cultural programming,” said Gregory Liakos, MCC’s communications director.

Liakos was quick to add, “Only in the most extreme cases when we or the organization determine it is no longer able to carry out its basic mission will we discuss rescinding funding.”

“The [FHET] board of trustees really want to keep this going. They’re the ones who brought me back,” said Jonathan Clark, the new program coordinator at FHET. “But they don’t really know what the future is, either.”

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. Over 6,000 people attended last year’s events.

Clark said there’s a possibility that November’s Day of the Dead celebration could happen, though that is not certain.

Clark is a FHET former staffer 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 previously said that he does not know how long his tenure at FHET will be.

The FHET is a separate nonprofit 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 the cemetery board apparently had tensions that led to the programming halt in January.

Clark said that all fund-raising efforts are also currently suspended, including a membership drive table at the Lantern Festival.

“We’ve stopped doing membership [drives], as we’ve nothing to offer,” Clark said.

In a Gazette interview just before her resignation, Miller said that the suspension in programming is not because of a lack of money.

“I was never really privy to our finances before,” Clark said. “I’m starting to a little bit now, but I’m mainly focused on logistics [for the Lantern festival]… I’d imagine finances are pretty much the same as when Cecily left.”

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