by Sue Ann Rybak
Warner Brothers’ recent cease-and-desist letter to the Chestnut Hill Business Association has put an end to Chestnut Hill’s Annual Harry Potter Festival. And while some neighborhood residents are relieved that the festival is gone, its departure has left the Friends of J.S. Jenks (FOJSJ), an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to enhance the educational and enrichment opportunities at the school in Chestnut Hill, scrambling to find new sources of funding for its operating budget.
Haviva Goldman, vice president of FOJSJ, said the festival was “a wonderful fundraiser and community building event for Jenks.” The school, which transformed into the “Jenks Academy of Witchcraft and Wizardry” for the day, raised funds by selling tickets to outdoor inflatable bouncies, games, and other Harry Potter theme-related activities and merchandise.
FOJSJ also hosted The Firebolt 5K Run and Nimbus Walk in association with the Chestnut Hill Business Association. Goldman said the festival and proceeds from the 5K run and walk netted around $10,000 each year and provided funds for enrichment programs and a number of other projects.
“Our students and parents all looked forward to this event each year, and many thousands of community members enjoyed the kid-friendly activities we provided,” she said. “We are saddened and disappointed by the news that the festival will not be able to continue as it was. We did invest heavily in items fitting the Harry Potter theme, and had everything all ready to go for the fall.”
Tiffany Palmer, fundraising chair of FOJSJ, said funds raised through the festival provided funding for after-school programs, buses for field trips and allowed the group to purchase air conditioners for the school.
“And we set aside a very large amount of money to go towards the capital improvement lighting project for the auditorium,” she said. “We relied on the Harry Potter Festival to help us meet our annual budget. So, we are going to have to find other ways to fill that shortfall.”
The nonprofit is planning to participate in some sort of fall-theme carnival.
“A lot of our activities such as the moonbounce were not Harry Potter specific,” she said.
Palmer said some people might just show up in their Harry Potter attire.
“I feel like the people who attended the Harry Potter Day probably spent hundreds of dollars in licensed products,” she said. “They are obviously people who adore the books and bought all the movies and they just want an opportunity to gather.”
She said while there are two Harry Potter themed parks in the country, they are very expensive and often very crowded.
“It’s nice to find other opportunities to celebrate with fans locally, and Chestnut Hill really provided that,” said Palmer, the mother of a fifth grader at Jenks Academy of the Arts and Sciences. “I am sure as a former educator, J.K. Rowling, would have loved for our school to be supported through the Harry Potter Festival.”
She said the festival helped to create a whole new generation of Harry Potter fans.
“Many of the kids who came to the festival were too small to read,” she said. “However, you knew as soon as those kids could read, they would be reading the series because they were already fans. I think a lot of people are going to be mourning the loss of the festival. I think other people may just decide they are going to come out in their Harry Potter robes, anyway. Warner Bros. can try to regulate their copyright, but they can’t control people’s imaginations.”
Aisha Loeks, 30, of Center City, was upset to hear the festival was canceled.
“I don’t see the harm it’s doing to Warner Bros.,” she said. “It’s all in good fun and allows the fans to go to a place and be in character. My friends and I look forward to the festival every year. We plan to show up in full costume that weekend and go out to eat and shop.”
She thinks the organizers “should just change the names to everything off brand.” She suggests changing the name to “Chestnut Hill’s Witches and Wizards Weekend.”
“Who cares about brand name,” she said. “It’s the feeling that counts! Just change everything slightly. Call it butterscotch beer instead of butter beer. Call it mubbles instead of muggle. We would all still show up. It’s literally the best weekend of something fun to do in Philly!”
Northeast Philadelphia resident Laura Monaco, who goes with her son every year, said she thinks Warner Bros. “is doing a disservice to the fans.”
“My son and I always go to the festival,” she said. “He’s 7.. It’s the most joyous time of year for us. Watching him grow with the festival, as the festival grew, was a yearly blessing.”
She said the festival encouraged children to read Harry Potter books and promoted literacy.
“My son has the whole Harry Potter book collection,” she said. “He loves when I read him chapters and is excited to read them himself, one day, when he’s older. At the festival, we would sit and listen to the special guests and characters read the books. It was a thrill for him.”
She said she thinks Warner Bros. should negotiate because the festival in Chestnut Hill “excites people enough to go to the actual Harry Potter World in Orlando.”
“Let fans have their fun,” Monaco said. “Isn’t that what all this is about? To get swept away into some magical muggle world?”
She said they will definitely check out Chestnut Hill’s fall festival and liked Loeks’ idea of a “Wizard and Witches” event.
“It sounds like a fun Halloween event,” she said. “It still brings the community together and who knows — maybe we can see Harry Potter cupcakes still. What’s wrong with some cupcakes sprinkled with Griffindor Red and Yellow sprinkles or Green and White Sprinkles for Syltherin House. A nice touch to bring a smile as a reminder of the awesomeness of The Harry Potter Festival that was in Chestnut Hill for so many years.”