Freedom isn't free, and neither are events celebrating freedom.
The sagging economy has narrowed the stream of sponsorships and donations available for Constitution Week USA, so the nonprofit group is being forced to charge admission Saturday to Gilbert's annual Constitution Fair for the first time in its seven-year history.
This time, attendees will be charged $2 per person when they arrive at Highland High School, up to $10 per family.
On Friday, event founder Bill Norton said the group is about $15,000 short of the $75,000 needed for this year's event, and that figure was scaled back a little in anticipation of homebuilders and other major sponsors not being able to chip in as much as in previous years.
Still, that figure was an improvement from midweek, when he said the group was about $20,000 short before several small donors stepped up to help.
In previous years, the fair collected voluntary donations the day of the event to supplement money raised beforehand, but this time "we couldn't rely on an unpredictable amount of donations, so we tried to put the admission at a figure that still felt free," Norton said.
Signups for the Town Hall portion of the event are picking up as both the fair and the presidential election approach, organizing committee member Dave Petersen said.
"We'll have everybody from the John Birch Society to the ACLU," he said.
Norton has said the format of the Town Hall now matches his original vision of the concept, with diametrically opposed viewpoints next to each other.
The fair also will feature entertainment from the Branson, Mo., multi-instrumental Lowe Family and a fireworks display.
The fair, with attendance estimates varying from 5,000 to 10,000, is the centerpiece of the week, but Constitution Week officially kicks off with a Boy Scout clinic in Gilbert on Wednesday, and a second in Chandler on Sept. 24.
Designed for Boy Scouts ages 12 to 16 in search of merit badges, the clinics could attract 700 to 800 participants each, Norton said.
In Gilbert, there also will be a performance of a World War II-themed musical, "The Price of Freedom," written by East Valley composer Rob Gardner, at 7p.m. Sunday.
Admission will be free, but seating will be limited by the capacity of the Gilbert High School auditorium, so attendees are encouraged to arrive early.