This is the second of a two-part series examining the changes to the Celebrate Ontario program. Part one can be read here.
Since it was announced in early June that major events in Hamilton and beyond would not receive funding from provincial funding program Celebrate Ontario, organizers and audiences have been reeling. Supercrawl, Festival of Friends, Dundas Buskerfest and FrancoFest all saw funding cut or eliminated, while other festivals across the province were negatively impacted as well.
While the major financial gap that all of these organizations is now facing has been widely discussed, the changes (and lack thereof) to the Celebrate Ontario program which caused this gap hasn’t. This article, the second of two parts, focuses on the instability of government funding programs that are aimed at summer events, but that also frequently put the organizations (and other stakeholders) at a disadvantage.
In the first article, it was noted that the current government undertook a review of the Celebrate Ontario program, which resulted in a number of changes to the application and evaluation process. This review was never formally announced or communicated (even to past program recipients), and the review caused the delay of the 2019-intake deadline for the program. This meant that organizations could not submit an application until much later than usual; the deadline for applications was early January, rather than October.
While a January deadline for an event occurring in April is already troubling, the October deadline set by past governments who ran the Celebrate Ontario program was already a cause for concern each year. Traditionally, the application period for Celebrate Ontario has closed in late October or early November, with organizations being notified whether funding has been received (and how much) or not by April or May. This is problematic for many organizations already, as the application period for events are for those taking place between April-March of the following year (ie: an application submitted for an October deadline could potentially be for an event taking place six months later). For events taking place earlier in the year in particular, this is an incredible gamble, as they are torn between being fiscally responsible, but potentially not fulfilling all the granting requirements (and potentially returning much-needed funding), or paying for programming or aspects of the event as outlined in the grant application, but being unable to cover these costs financially if the funding is reduced or unsuccessful. There is no right answer to organizations, as they balance growing their audience, staying true to their mission, longevity and a great event with these decisions.
Celebrate Ontario is not the only program whose late deadlines and notifications put arts and other not-for-profit and charitable organizations at a disadvantage. Both the Ontario Summer Experience Program and Canada Summer Jobs program, which offer employers in the arts and culture (among other) sectors subsidies to fund summer jobs for youth (under 30) in the sector have deadlines in the late winter or early spring for organizations to apply for summer positions. Organizations rely on this funding to hire certain positions; meaning that if the funding is not received, the role is not created. As a result, organizations will not advertise or post these open positions until funding notifications are received- usually in late May or early June.
By this time in the calendar, many events are underway, and senior-level students or post-graduates who could benefit from leadership or planning opportunities may be at a loss, as the event has progressed too far for them to have meaningful input. In other cases, the timing means that university students (or graduates) have found other jobs, which may be of equal pay, but are not in a desired field due to the instability of this funding. This leaves both the students at a disadvantage, if they are looking for work related to a sector (such as the arts) that frequently relies on these grants for summer students. The organizations are also at a disadvantage, as they lose the opportunity to train potential up-and-coming leaders in the sector. Frequently, these temporary roles end up going to younger students as a result (who are not looking for work to start until late June or July).
Organizations can receive individual feedback as to why their application was or wasn’t successful in an effort to improve their application the following year. Since the announcement of the cuts and subsequent backlash faced by the Conservative government, additional funding for events across the province have been announced. Ottawa festivals will receive $792,000; Toronto events will receive an undisclosed amount; and the rest of the province will receive a total of $800,000. It is unknown how much- if any amount- Hamilton festivals will receive of this amount.
Regardless, for the organizations who have already received or are continuing to face a significant cut from this program (regardless of how reliable, or not reliable the source may be), the impact of losing funding from a major source for a single year can take years to recover from, if they recover at all. There is an added challenge for organizations that do not have charitable status (like Supercrawl, Festival of Friends, Dundas Buskerfest and FrancoFest), as it means certain streams of funding are more difficult, or even impossible to obtain. These events bring tremendous benefit to our community, and we can only hope- for all of our sake- that the support of the audience and larger community, strong leadership from these organizations and a solid contingency plan, bring these organizations through this difficult time.