It's Your (free) Festival, but open your wallet if you want it to stay alive. 

That's the messaging from It's Your Festival organizers when asked about a $25,000 fence surrounding the festival at the core of the 30-hectare Gage Park. 

The six-foot-tall blue fence seals off the splash pad, and funnels people in through a limited number of entrances, right past a table with two volunteers soliciting donations. 

$25K fence erected to solicit donations

The reason has nothing to do with security. And nothing to do with taming crowds. It's there to raise funds, and let festival goers know the four-day festival has a tight budget.

"The design is fundraising.... If we can get the people's attention that the festival needs help if it's going to survive," said Lloyd Turner, program director of Hamilton Folk Arts Heritage Council which runs It's Your Festival.

At $25,000, organizers are counting on Hamiltonians to open their wallets this year more than ever — and that's just to pay off the fence. The festival receives $53,000 in funding from the City of Hamilton, but nothing from federal or provincial purses. Turner said last year's donations totalled roughly $10,000. 

'Long term' solution

"It's not necessarily a short term solution," defended Turner. "We just want the people to know that the festival is still a free festival.... If somebody didn't donate it's not a reason to say they can't come it… We just ask for a voluntary donation."

While Turner was clear about the reason for decision to erect the fence, a decision made months earlier, he could not answer questions on what organizers had planned for the fence after the festival. He also wasn't sure what the cost was to store, maintain, construct and tear down the fence each Canada Day long weekend. 

"In time the people will get the idea that if you can see a good band (it's worth a donation)… For example you're going to see blue rodeo at Hamilton Place it's going to be $45 dollars.... If you're going to see them at It's Your Festival and you drop in a toonie, it's damn good buy."  

No complaints from festival goers

On Monday, festival goers didn't seem to be bothered by the fence. And if there did, they didn't mind. 

"I didn't even noticed it," said Theresa D'Antonio, who was purchasing ride tickets for her two young kids. "These tickets are a fortune, is that a donation?"

Greg Koropatnicki, meanwhile, said the fence didn't bother him either. He owns a bar not far from Gage Park, and said business has been tough on everyone. He doesn't blame organizers for the fundraising drive.

"No, not at all," Koropatnicki said of the fence while his two-year-old son, Charlie, jumped down an inflatable slide. "As long as you know it's a good cause."