Up Here festival organizers have had to make very difficult decisions over the weekend.
Late last week, they found out that the $100K in funding they were expecting from the province won’t be coming through.
The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport gave notice of the government’s decision less than a month before the festival kicks off.
Up Here is an urban art and emerging music festival, currently in its 9th edition. This year, it is slated to happen between the 18th and the 20th of August.
Organizers say they had no reason to believe their grant request would be rejected.
“We’ve been successful every single time we’ve applied for this since we started in 2015,” said artistic co-director Christian Pelletier.
“We had no reason to believe this funding would not come through.”
The funding is delivered through a program called Experience Ontario. Spokesperson Denelle Balfour told CBC in an email that this year’s selection process was very competitive.
“Unfortunately, not all applications could be supported,” she said, adding that the program had a budget of $19,5M and applicants requested over $50M in support.
Festival has to be scaled back
But for Pelletier, this is “less about the news of not getting the funding, and more about the news of not getting the funding this late in the game.”
He says that, in previous years, Ontario would confirm funding around April, leaving plenty of time to adapt to unexpected changes.
“Since COVID, they’ve completely shifted their deadlines, which leaves us in an impossible situation,” said Pelletier.
With no time to find alternate sources of funding, says the festival is “caught between a rock and a hard place.”
He and his team have cancelled some of the Friday and Saturday late shows.
They have also had to cancel this year’s only overseas act and the creation of a new Katie Green mural.
Pelletier adds that several artistic installations will have to be scaled back.
He is grateful for the outpour of community support, but says the whole exercise has been “disheartening.”
Other festivals receive funding
The River and Sky festival in Nipissing had to choose between the Experience Ontario grant and another funding stream two years ago.
Executive director Abigail Cassio says she is grateful to have chosen the latter.
“I had a feeling about Experience Ontario,” she said. “I heard a lot of horror stories of people expecting funding and then having the rug pulled from under them.”
She says that learning about funding announcements three weeks before an event is planned is “crazy.”
She said if a similar situation happened to her festival, she would likely have to take on tremendous debt.
“We’re always playing this balancing act in this industry,” she said, adding that organizations rely heavily on grants and must often start the planning process before funding is confirmed.
Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli put out a press release Monday congratulating organizations in the Greater Sudbury area that did receive Experience Ontario funding this year.
These include over $50K for the Sudbury Performance Group’s Northern Arts Festival, $43K for the Cinefest International Film Festival, $25K for the Jazz Sudbury Festival and over $23K for the YES Summer Festival.