It never used to be that The Arc of Sedgwick County had to charge admission on weekends.
Sure, many of its members had suggested they do so, according to Kevin Fish, the Arc’s executive director, but the nonprofit had resisted – until this year.
“This last year, we’ve seen cuts from the state in funding – a lot of financial challenges at the agency,” Fish said. “This event helps us continue to provide a lot of free programs or some that are very, very cheap, but we still have a lot of cost, so it’s important that this fundraiser is successful.”
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To drive through the Arc’s Lights (formerly known as the Lights on St. Paul), it will cost $10 per carload on Friday and Saturday nights. The light display, which is open every night through Dec. 28, is free but has a $10 suggested donation Sunday through Thursday nights.
“One of the things as we were moving toward doing the admission thing is we didn’t want any families to feel eliminated, like they couldn’t afford to come,” Fish said, explaining his decision to keep the display donation-based Sundays through Thursdays.
This is the 20th anniversary for the Arc’s Lights, an annual fundraiser/light display to support the Arc’s programs.
Fish said that, as of Tuesday, it was difficult to tell how much the admission change has affected attendance, if at all. Last weekend’s admission numbers were “fairly comparable” to last year’s, when poor weather hampered many holiday attractions in town.
“We have volunteers who are down the street to catch people before they get down here, welcome them and let them know tonight’s an admission night,” Fish said. “We had several cars who then pulled off on Friday night – not a significant amount, but a few, and a lot less cars on Saturday.
“I think it’s a learning curve. ... This next weekend will really give us more of a better, clearer picture.”
The Arc’s Lights, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has about 1.9 million lights in its display, including its signature lighted tunnel near the parking lot of the Arc’s building at Second and St. Paul.
This year, the Arc’s Lights added up to 400,000 lights that formerly shined at Heartspring’s Lights on the Lake.
Heartspring, which hasn’t hosted its event in a couple of years, had the lights in storage and donated most of them to the Arc, Fish said.
Last year, attendance at the Arc’s Lights dipped slightly from its 2014 total – about 23,000 cars – largely because the display had to close twice in 2015 because of ice, Fish said.
Fish said the Arc hopes to gross $150,000 from the light display this year – all of the admission fees and donations go toward that goal.
The funds will be used to support the Arc’s programs for individuals with developmental disabilities – it hosts free events every Tuesday as well as sponsors a mentorship program at 45 area schools that involves about 2,300 students.
The Arc’s Lights
When: 5:30-9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5:30-11:45 p.m. Christmas Eve. Open through Dec. 28.
Where: Starting at Douglas and St. Paul
What: Drive-through holiday light display featuring about 1.9 million lights
Admission: $10 Fridays and Saturdays, free with suggested $10 donation Sundays-Thursdays