LondonFuse media collective announces shutdown amid burnout and lack of funding
Members say the collective filled gaps in mainstream media
An independent media collective celebrating arts and culture in London, Ont. is shutting down in June.
Established in 2009 as a grassroots organization, LondonFuse was eventually incorporated into a non-profit. For 13 years, leaders of the group taught volunteers to research, write, photograph and film video content telling underground stories of local heritage, music, innovation and oddity. The content was posted and shared through the website LondonFuse.ca.
"There's only so much that can be covered by mainstream media," said Laura Thorne, president and chair of LondonFuse.
"Even just the conversations that happened at Fuse meetings with contributors, the way that information was spread and the stories that were told weren't being told anywhere else."
Thorne said that before 2019, 80 per cent of the funding for LondonFuse came from Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants, with the plan to work towards a sustainable model via sponsored content.
The funding went toward paying a handful of part-time positions or contract positions to lead the volunteer program, and covering rent for a collaboration space. Throughout the years, LondonFuse moved from Richmond Street to King Street, then to Bathurst Street and finally landed at Innovation Works London.
"It was a wonderfully creative space," remembers Nicki Borland, a former volunteer turned program director turned executive director before departing from LondonFuse in 2019.
"It really showed me a whole different side of London, that despite the fact that I grew up in London I really wasn't aware of, or at least not as aware as I thought I was. It was a wonderful place to be."
LondonFuse was exploring new modes of sustainable funding when the last Trillium grant began to run out in 2019, after the Ford government cut approximately $15 million from the OTF 2018-2019 budget. That program was restructured and application timelines were changed.
Refusing to censor for funding
Thorne said that when LondonFuse tried to reapply, organizers were told they were ineligible because they weren't providing a service, but a product. They were also verbally told that to get an OTF grant, they would need to agree to not be critical of the provincial government.
"As a publication, that's a hard line to walk," said Thorne. "Fusers wrote about politics in a critical and thoughtful way and we couldn't censor that for funding."
The eligibility policy found on the Ontario Trillium Foundation website lists the following as ineligible activities for OTF grants:
- political activities supporting or opposing any political party, elected representative, or candidate for public office
- activities for the purpose of bringing about change in law or government policy, including public policy dialogue and development
LondonFuse did find some federal funding to compensate writers focusing on heritage, but it wasn't enough to hire anyone indefinitely. From 2019 to 2020, sponsored content kept the website afloat, while volunteers raised funds through events, donations and merchandise sales.
- Ontario Trillium Foundation $15M cut to make 'significant difference' to non-profit organization, charities
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic and volunteer burnout led to the collapse of those efforts as well.
"There have been some very dedicated people who are absolutely just in love with making sure that Fuse continued," said Thorne. "Between the demands of running this organization and a really hard time recruiting volunteers who can be engaged, it's just not sustainable to have it with a handful of people. And then with COVID dragging on…it's just been time."
Journalist Emily Stewart volunteered with LondonFuse for six years. She began shortly after graduating from Fanshawe College's broadcast journalism program, wanting to hone her skills as she searched for full-time employment. Her work with LondonFuse includes a Histories of London documentary series and contributing to its mental health series.
She said the experience helped her grow beyond developing her professional skills.
"I'm definitely friends with a lot of the volunteers that I've met over the years," she said, adding that the end of LondonFuse is the end of an era.
"A lot of the contributors are also artists, comedians, photographers who were doing this because they simply love to create," said Stewart. "It's a huge loss in London for sure."
The LondonFuse website will remain up until June 30, 2023, but will no longer be updated.