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CityFolk in Ottawa on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo: Scott Penner.

Ottawa festivals “very much welcome” the news of increased provincial funding

By Erika Ibrahim on August 10, 2021

Many Ottawa-based music, arts, and performance festivals will receive increased financial support through a new Ontario government funding program. The one-time increase in funding to the festival and event sector will not only help people engage with art and their communities, but will also help festival networks in need of support, according to a statement from the province.

Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, announced the funding in Toronto on August 4. “For more than a year, the pandemic has disproportionately impacted tourism and culture – two major industries that bring people together and our communities to life,” she said. “Increasing our annual support for festival and events will give the sector a much-needed boost as we continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19.”

TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, CityFolk festival, and Beyond Van Gogh Ottawa are just a few of the 50 Ottawa-based recipients of the the Reconnect Festival and Event Program. Ottawa-area festivals and cultural events will receive more than $5.8 million combined through the program.

The Escapade Music Festival is another of the Ottawa funding beneficiaries. In a statement, festival director Ali Shafaee said: “The funding announced today will help position us for industry recovery. It is also very important to us that we keep our team at work delivering safe and entertaining experiences.”

“My reaction was that it was good to see that the province has been listening to the industry, and the struggles that it’s been going through because of COVID,” said Lee Dunbar, director of research and communications for the Ottawa Festival Network.

Dunbar says that while some federal subsidies have helped keep festival workers employed, the many industries and service providers that help make festivals and cultural events happen are in need of support.

The funding in large part allows legacy festival organizations to put on programming that is different than their usual all in-person fare. This year’s programming is either totally virtual or a hybrid of in-person and online performances and events, said Dunbar.

The Ottawa Jazz Festival stage at City Hall in 2019. Photo: Greggory Clark/Apt613.

In a statement, Holly Tarrison-Gaskin, president of the Ottawa Festival Network, estimated that about 58,000 people’s livelihoods are directly supported by the city’s festival industry.

“Speaking with our members, they’re concerned with their own sustainability, but they’re also very much concerned with the whole ecosystem of festivals,” said Dunbar. “And so this money was very much welcome to keep people employed, but also to keep that supply chain as much intact as it possibly can be under the situation.”

Those included in the festival supply chain range from audiovisual teams, lighting technicians, and staging crews to sanitation companies, fencing crews, and caterers.

Dunbar added that he and his colleagues have heard reports from those in the broader festival ecosystem that about 95 per cent of their revenues have been cut. “It’s pretty devastating for some of these organizations,” he said. “So if this [funding] didn’t happen? Yeah, it would have been very perilous for the industry.”

He pointed out that most of the Ottawa Festival Network’s events are nonprofit. “They exist to share culture, they exist to share art and performance,” said Dunbar. The organizers keeping festivals alive aren’t doing so solely for their own sake, he says, “but a lot of them are doing that just to give opportunities for the art and culture they love so much to keep progressing.”