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'To say we've given them nothing, that's not true' 0

By Sara Carson, Orillia Packet & Times

ORILLIA - 

A lack of control over cultural grant funding has left the city unaware of how much they’re contributing, says Coun. Linda Murray.

“... The former culture department would give money, give time, give printing support and we wouldn't even be aware of it,” Murray said Wednesday.

Unlike all other city grants, money handed out by the former culture department — from its discretionary fund — wasn't being vetted through the city's grants committee.

In 2012 alone, the former culture and heritage department handed out $43,000 in grants to different events and organizations, said Coun. Michael Fogarty.

“... We had little accountability....” he said.

During 2013 budget deliberations in November, the Mariposa Folk Foundation wrote a letter to council suggesting the city wasn't supporting the festival enough.

“The idea that we're not putting our money where our mouth is kind of stung a bit,” Fogarty said. “We have recognized the valuable contribution that they make and we do support that.”

Each year, the culture and heritage department has given the Mariposa Folk Festival around $6,000 in advertising, marketing on billboards, radio ads, distribution of 40,000 flyers and the purchase of large, heavy mats to cover cables for safety, states a staff report.

The department gave the festival a cash sponsorship of $5,000 in 2010 and $2,500 in both 2011 and 2012.

The department also contributed about $4,000 in staff time. This includes the use of municipal vehicles.

“... To say we’ve given them nothing, that’s not true,” Murray said.

In November, the foundation wrote to the city asking for the establishment of a $50,000 arts and cultural grant program.

For its 2013 festival, the foundation is requesting a $15,000 cash grant.

The Mariposa Folk Festival — with an annual budget of roughly $750,000 — is close to running a deficit from last year’s festival. Its one paid staff member is funded through an expiring Trillium grant.

“Everybody goes on about how big our budget is, but we are a not-for-profit, so we don’t make any money,” said Mariposa Folk Foundation president Chris Lusty. “We feel we shouldn’t be penalized for being successful.”

The annual Mariposa Folk Festival has been held in Tudhope Park since its return to Orillia in 2000.

In 2011, city politicians hiked its daily rental fee of Tudhope Park to $1,500 from $400.

The festival deserves more financial support from the city, says the festival’s founder.

“They’ve never been terribly generous,” said Ruth Jones McVeigh, founder of the Mariposa Folk Festival, who now lives in Ottawa.

“It really upsets me because I don’t think they’ve ever realized just how valuable Mariposa is to them.”

At Monday’s council meeting, city politicians postponed a decision regarding establishing a culture grant program as they await a staff report on the creation of a grant structure.

“I’m not saying no to them, I’m just saying let’s put our policies in place,” Murray said. “We need to itemize what we’re giving because we often hear we don’t give anything.”

The councillor also wants to put a cost to staff time.

“I’m happy to give staff time, but let’s put a dollar figure to that,” she said.

Coun. Tony Madden said he’s awaiting the report before forming an opinion, but wants to ensure Orillia is able to attract and retain festivals and events.

“These type of festivals are a very important economic driver for the community,” he said.

Lusty is optimistic the festival will be given $15,000 in city grant funding.

“In-kind stuff is fine and we do get some from the city for that, but cash is king,” he said. “It costs us a lot of money to put on the festival.”

In the run-up to the festival, the foundation needs $100,000 to $150,000 in the bank to pay big-name artists 50% upfront and for other advance costs.

“Come festival day, the pot’s pretty empty,” Lusty said.

During budget deliberations, the foundation also asked to be reimbursed for all the Tudhope Park rental fees it has paid the city since 2000.

They believe they shouldn’t have been paying due to a city policy that states that local non-profit groups will not be assessed fees for events in parks.

City staff determined the fees were intended to be charged and should not be returned. City politicians agreed at Monday’s council committee meeting.

“The decision not to reimburse didn’t come as a big surprise,” Lusty said. “That was pretty obvious in our discussions with staff. We don’t agree with it, but that’s the way it goes.”

sara.ross@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @Sara_VRoss

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