Finger Lakes Pagan Festival Seeks Permit

Pagan fete planned for Canandaigua’s Baker Park Organizers feel they’ve been stigmatized by the city because they’re Pagans. By E.W. BRADSHAW II / [email protected] CANANDAIGUA – Pagans who want to hold a festival in Baker Park in August say they’ve been spellbound by the city, which is taking its time reviewing an event application submitted last winter. “I don’t think they know what Pagan is,” Heidi Gleber, local coordinator for Finger Lakes Pagan Pride, said on Tuesday. “I think they hear ‘Pagan’ and they get nervous.” But city officials say the delay has nothing to do with the beliefs of the Earth-based, polytheist religion. Rather, it’s a first-year event, and must go through a more in-depth review, said Ward 1 Councilman Travis Nixon. Nixon chairs the committee that reviewed the application Tuesday night. “I think they feel slighted like any other first-year organization would, (because of the) bureaucratic red tape,” he said. Finger Lakes Pagan Pride wants to hold a festival Saturday, Aug. 28, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. that will coincide with other similar celebrations across the nation in August and September. Rochester Pagan Pride, for example, is holding its sixth annual festival Saturday, Sept. 25, at Ellison Park in the towns of Brighton and Penfield. Similar groups have planned events in Ithaca and Elmira. The Canandaigua festival is open to the public and intended to raise awareness about Pagans and their beliefs in deities often found in pre-Christian, classical, aboriginal or tribal mythology. Admission to the festival is a non-perishable food item that will be donated to a food cupboard. The City Council will decide Thursday during its meeting at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall, 2 N. Main St., whether to approve the Pagan Pride festival. Nixon believed there shouldn’t be a problem because the entire City Council attended Tuesday’s committee meeting and there didn’t appear to be any major issues. “They did a great job,” said Mayor Ellen Polimeni of Gleber and other presenters. “I think the council learned a lot about the group itself.” Just in case, the festival’s sponsor – Finger Lakes Pagan Pride – has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, which plans to have an attorney on hand Thursday. The weeks leading up to Tuesday night’s meeting, though, didn’t go as smoothly, according to Gleber, who said city staff seemed to keep changing the rules. When the application was submitted in February, City Manager Stephen Cole said they would need to obtain insurance, which Gleber says she did. Then on April 15, Gleber maintains, the city pulled the item off a city meeting agenda, claiming the park couldn’t be used for a religious event, she said. Later that day, Cole called and gave another reason for the delay, saying parks couldn’t be reserved during the summer because they are utilized for sports by the general public, said Gleber. After that, Gleber decided to get the ACLU involved. Cole said Tuesday the allegation the festival was being excluded from using the park for religious reasons is not true. Instead, he said the applicants – Shelly O’Brien and Gleber – misunderstood that the City Council, not city staff, have the final say in regards to events. Not knowing this, O’Brien and Gleber went ahead and made the arrangements, booking speakers and vendors, Cole said. He did say there’s an “unwritten understanding” that Baker Park’s field could not be used by other groups between Memorial Day and Labor Day because it is the city’s most-used athletic park. He called the reserved time frame “the green zone.” Cole said the festival would take up one soccer field. In the future, the city will put in writing on event applications the “green zone” rule, Polimeni said.


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