Province slashing millions in Celebrate Ontario tourism funding

The cuts are being felt by cultural organizations across the province, big and small.

Institutions like Supercrawl and Inside Out facing funding cuts

Circus Orange is a mainstay performance at Hamilton's Supercrawl. The festival received $275,000 last year in Celebrate Ontario funding, but is getting nothing this year. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The province is cutting millions of dollars in funding to Celebrate Ontario grants for tourism and arts initiatives this year.

News of the shortfall started breaking in recent days, leaving many organizations scrambling to find alternative funding — in some of the cases, for events that are only weeks away, or have even already happened. What has become evident is a large chunk Celebrate Ontario's funding has disappeared, and fewer organizations are being funded in 2019 compared to last year.

What isn't clear is exactly how much has been cut. The province has changed how it reports its funding, now breaking it down into a general stream and "blockbuster" allocations. It appears $7 million has been cut from Celebrate Ontario's budget, but the province is also touting a $4 million investment for large-scale events through the fund, which would leave the actual cut at around $3 million.

One arts advocate says the change means the province is being less transparent about how the funding is allocated, making the full impact of the cuts harder to assess. The provincial government has not responded to requests over several days for comment by CBC News.

These cuts aren't coming as a total shock to many in the arts community, given recent provincial cuts to health care and education. But that doesn't make them any easier to swallow, said Jeremy Freiburger, head of CoBALT Connects, a non-profit organization that connects creative businesses in Ontario.

"It's frustrating to see this, especially under the guise of 'we're open for business,'" Freiburger said.

"They're assuming the public won't rally around cultural entities."

Last year, the province funded 325 separate cultural organizations for a total of just over $21 million in grants through Celebrate Ontario. 

According to this year's data, only 257 organizations are receiving grants, at a total of just over $14 million — but that doesn't account for the so-called "blockbuster" funding.

These are not giveaways, they are investments — and I'm not sure the province sees that yet.- Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Some of Ontario's largest festivals are feeling the brunt of these cuts. Supercrawl, Hamilton's largest music and arts festival, received $275,000 last year, but is getting nothing this year.

The Inside Out LGBT Film Festival went from just over $152,000 in Celebrate Ontario funding last year to nothing this year.

That loss of funding had a direct impact on Inside Out's marketing budget, said Andria Wilson, executive director.

"This is a fund that was integral to our organization's growth and marketing this festival outside of Ontario," she said.

Leah Faieta, a consultant who helps arts organizations with the grant process, says in previous years, the province had bundled its "blockbuster" funding with the rest of Celebrate Ontario. This year, it has been broken out — but without a breakdown of who is getting funded in that category, or for how much.

"Overall there's less transparency, which makes it very difficult to figure out what's been cut and what hasn't," Faieta said.

Province wanted 'return on investment' for funding

The province did not respond to repeated requests for comment about the cuts.

In an email about the issue sent last week to CBC Ottawa, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said the program got more than 400 submissions this year for a pot of $20 million, and approved a similar number of requests as previous years.

Le Grand Continental brought together over 200 dancers from across the GTA to perform at last year's Luminato Festival. (Gary Asselstine/CBC)

"We made sure to provide funding to those festivals and events that demonstrate a clear return on investment, respect for taxpayer dollars, and were focused on increasing tourism in the province of Ontario," wrote Brett Weltman.

Some festivals did see a funding boost. The Ottawa Children's Festival received $98,000 this year, up from $54,303 in 2018. The Blyth Festival in North Huron also saw an increase, going from $60,000 last year to $160,000 this year.

Festivals getting more expensive to run

Dave MacNeil, CEO of Festivals and Events Ontario, told CBC News that festivals can't rely on grants to stay afloat.

"If a granting model is part of your formula for success and you don't get it, you're up against the wall," he said. Still, these cuts are a "big hit" for a lot of festivals that were expecting funding, MacNeil said.

"These festivals not getting cheaper to run, they're getting more expensive to run," he said.

"Festivals build communities. Whether it's a hometown community, a different cultural group, an arts community or sports community. All of these festivals build and add on to the fabric of these different communities."

Andria Wilson is the executive director of the Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. (Dahlia Katz/Inside Out)

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenber said it's also important for governments to remember that these events are not only valuable from an arts and entertainment perspective, but an economic development perspective.

Hamilton sees them as a major economic driver, he said.

"The belief is not only that arts and culture are vital to a community if you want to attract people to it, but there's an economic spinoff that comes with it," Eisenberger said.

"These are not giveaways, they are investments — and I'm not sure the province sees that yet."



  • An earlier version of this story reported the cut to Celebrate Ontario grants was $7 million. The province has changed how it reports this funding, which means there may be another $4 million available and the cut may only be $3 million.
    Jun 11, 2019 11:34 AM ET


Adam Carter


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.


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