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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 19, No. 7

Sharing Canada’s Festival Funding

by Philip Ehrensaft / June 1, 2014

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When the collapse of the American financial bubble in 2008 sparked a worldwide recession, one tool in the Canadian Federal government’s counter-recessionary policies was the Marquee Tourism Events Program (MTEP). It provided a big temporary jump in grants to festivals and tourist events, $88 million during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 fiscal years, but it was not renewed after 2011.

MTEP, however, limited funding to the biggest kids on the block: festivals and events with three or more years of operations with either 1) minimum attendance of 250,000 and operation budgets of $2 million; or 2) minimum attendance of 50,000 and budgets of $500,000.

To prevent Canada’s economy from plummeting, Ottawa wanted to inject stimulus money into the economy quickly and effectively. Doing that via the biggest organizations with a proven track record was seen as the optimal route. Whether that perception was correct is another matter.

One thing that we can affirm is that the lobbying organization representing the biggest festivals, Festivals and Major Events Canada (FAME), would like to see this tilt in favor of its members become a permanent part of the arts funding landscape.

We can see whether this tilt has persisted by looking at the most recently available data on the principal program for Federal grants to arts festivals and presenters, the Canada Arts Presentation Fund (CAPF), administered by Heritage Canada.

“La festivalisation de la musique”

Today’s festivals now operate in a music sector context that differs from that of a few decades ago. Twenty-first century music festivals account for an increasing share of the live performance market in multiple genres: classical, jazz, rock, world, folk and country. Festival activities extend beyond their annual calendar slot, via off-season concerts, school programs, and master classes augmenting this share. In response, concert halls, clubs, and museums increasingly organize special music events that are effectively festivals under another guise.

La festivalisation de la musique” is a term aptly employed by Emmanuel Négrier, Michel Guérin and Luís Bonet, in Festivals de Musique[s]: Un monde en mutation (Éditions Michel de Maule, 2013). Increasing festivalization of music may be driven more by anthropological than standard economic or aesthetic variables. To quote Marie-José Justamond, artistic director of the SUDS world music festival in Arles, France, “Festivals may have replaced the great rituals, the major religious ceremonies. This goes beyond just music, these are strong collective moments. Beyond the economic, cultural, artistic impact, there is an undeniable human impact.”

Festivalization may be reaching a saturation point, in multiple musical genres and cross-nationally, as politicians have embraced the idea that arts festivals generate major economic spinoffs. As with other innovations, early adopters earn big profits, but as second and third-comers enter the market, returns decline, competition intensifies and shakeouts proceed.

When things get extra-Darwinian, the level and, above all, the distribution of state funding is a key factor in shaping which way the market tips.

Federal Festival Funding

Festivals and Major Events Canada (FAME)’s 28 member organizations includes Le Regroupement des évènements majeurs internationaux (RÉMI), a coalition of Québec’s largest festivals and tourist events. Collectively, FAME’s members wield considerable clout in the national economy.

In a policy memorandum presented in 2011-12 to the House of Commons Standing Committee, FAME stated:

“Why Fund Canada’s Successful Festivals and Events? Canada’s major festivals and events are among the best in the world. There is a mind set in Canada that believes public sector dollars should be reserved for the needy and struggling. Success should not negate a need for federal investment, in fact we believe that the government should be investing more in low-risk, high yield opportunities that will generate revenues in the short term and assist the government in paying down debt.”

Whether Ottawa is receptive or not to FAME’s stance, now that the economy is more or less recovering, is a very different question. Even if the Federal powers-that-be could be inherently receptive to FAME’s reasoning, there’s the countering force of a lot of smaller festivals in a lot of municipalities with a lot of voters spread all across Canada.

FAME is clearly disgruntled that, on average, only 4% of their members’ operating budgets come from Federal grants. Most are pulling in more money from provincial and municipal grants, or private sponsors.

There’s a concrete way of gauging whether Ottawa’s current arts festival policy skews funding towards the top of the ladder, as FAME desires. In 2012-13, the Canada Arts Participation Fund gave 168 Québec arts festivals and presenters $9,959,100, ranging from $6,000 to $1,000,000.

Two organizations, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal and the Festival Juste Pour Rire, each received $1 million, for 20% of Québec’s grants. The nine organizations that received $200,000 or more, totaled 36.8% or $3,660,000, while 13 organizations in the $100,000 to $199,999 range received $1,565,000, or 15.7%.

Put those two big grant size classes together, and we’ve got 13% of the arts organizations collecting 52% of the grant dollars. At the bottom of the scale, grants less than $25,000, 65 organizations, 39 percent of the total, received $936,250, or 9%.

While that’s not as skewed as the Marquee Tourist program, which excluded smaller players outright, the inequality is steep. That being said, the Federal government has the mandate of promoting Canada’s foreign trade, and the bigger festivals attract the most visitors from outside the country.

How do classical music and jazz festivals fare? Aside from the $1-million grant to the Festival International de Jazz, art music festivals and presenters received $1,104,000 (13%), most going to classical music.

Festivals are the leading edge of today’s live music performance market in both Europe and North America. The level and distribution of both government and private sponsorship and philanthropy are critical, not only for the festivals themselves, but for viability of the music sector as a whole.

According to new data from Festivals et Évenements Québec, government grants account for 26.4% of total revenues: 6.0% from Ottawa, 12.2% from Québec, and 8.2% from local and regional governments. If Ottawa restored a significant chunk of the funding that was cut after 2011 and allowed organizations of all sizes, small and big, to compete for the new funds, the performance of the arts festival sector would definitely be stronger.

www.fame-feem.ca and www.remi.qc.ca

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