Ottawa festivals scramble after last-minute loss of provincial funding
The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and Glowfair are among several Ottawa festivals scrambling to make last-minute cuts after being passed over for a major source of provincial funding.
In a municipality that bills itself as Festival City, the situation has Mayor Jim Watson worrying about the future of some of Ottawa’s marquee events.
“These funding announcements come two months later than usual, at a time when festival season is well underway,” Watson said in a statement. “These cuts will undoubtedly affect our festivals’ ability to deliver quality programming this year — and for those that were hardest hit, survive in the future.”
Watson also said the city is working with the Ottawa Festival Network to “assess the local impact and consider next steps to engage with the Government of Ontario on the matter.”
Jazzfest and Glowfair, along with Escapade, Italian Week, the Ottawa International Busker Festival and the Canadian Tulip Festival, are not included on the 2019 list of grants from Celebrate Ontario, the provincial program aimed at helping festivals and events boost tourism.
The loss of funding is a big blow to Glowfair, said Christine Leadman, executive director of the Downtown Bank BIA, which organizes the free music festival, set to take place along Bank Street June 14-15. After securing grants of $80,000 to $100,000 in each of the past four years, the organizing team is now forced to scale back the event. Instead of two stages for entertainers, for example, there will be one.
Glowfair’s budget cuts are likely to include cancelling contracts that have already been signed, she added, which is bad business and may affect future support of the festival if sponsors pull out.
“When you’re planning these events, you have to make commitments,” Leadman said. “If you’re a good business person and you want to be a respected festival operator, you honour your contracts and pay your bills. This is bad business practice when you do something like this two weeks before the event.
“All those cuts do have a ripple effect,” she added. “That’s what happens. Suppliers get cut, jobs get cut.”
Catherine O’Grady, executive producer of the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, said her event applied for $290,000 this year but was shut out, despite having received $292,000 last year and having received money every year since the program was announced.
O’Grady said the festival, which begins June 20, spent all of its out-of-town marketing budget “with every anticipation that Celebrate Ontario (funding) would be available to underwrite it.
“Since the grant is designed to attract and promote tourism, we invest in tourism draws like Norah Jones, Chicago and The Roots, as well as other women artists who are the curatorial focus of the festival this year,” O’Grady continued.
“I had discussed our project with the (ministry’s) program manager ahead of time, who confirmed that the project was a sound idea and had tourism draw potential,” O’Grady added.
However, according to Brett Weltman, press secretary for Michael Tibollo, the province’s minister of tourism, culture and sport, the emphasis this year is on funding new festivals, not-for-profit organizations, year-round events and a greater number of events in rural and Northern Ontario. He also said that 80 per cent of francophone and Indigenous events that applied were funded.
“We made sure to provide funding to those festivals and events that demonstrate a clear return on investment, respect for taxpayer dollars, and were focused on increasing tourism in the province of Ontario,” Weltman said, adding that efforts were made to ensure that at least one event in each electoral district that applied was funded.
“We are happy to see that events like Glowfair and Ottawa Jazz Festival have become very successful in their local communities due to past Celebrate Ontario grant funding,” he continued. “With this year’s record-breaking Celebrate Ontario program, we want to make sure that new and emerging events have the opportunity to create a lasting legacy in their communities.”
Ottawa-area events that did receive Celebrate Ontario funding this year include the Ottawa International Writers Festival ($52,000), the Ottawa Children’s Festival ($98,000) RBC Bluesfest ($250,000), SouthAsianFest ($24,937), Latin Sparks Ottawa ($33,438), CityFolk ($250,000) and the Ontario Festival of Small Halls, which brings concerts to Eastern Ontario venues ($61,500).
Other Eastern Ontario events receiving funding under the program include the inaugural Rideau Live Music Festival in Smiths Falls ($41,000) and the Kemptville Live Music Festival ($88,000). Several regional fairs were also successful, including the Navan Fair ($80,000), Carp Fair ($31,250), and South Mountain Fair ($44,700).
Ministry statistics indicate that every dollar of Celebrate Ontario funding triggers $21 in visitor expenditures.
In all, Celebrate Ontario this year dispersed more than $13 million to more than 250 festivals and events in the province. Last year, more than $20 million went to a record 328 festivals.