Toronto

Private donations prop up SummerWorks

One week after Ottawa pulled funding for Toronto's SummerWorks Theatre Festival, the popular indie festival has seen a big chunk of that money already replaced by private donors.

One week after Ottawa pulled funding for Toronto's SummerWorks Theatre Festival, the popular indie festival has seen a big chunk of that money already replaced by private donors.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has warned arts groups not to assume federal funding every year. ((CBC))

Festival organizers said late last month that after a five-year partnership with Canadian Heritage, it received notice that it won't receive federal funding for the 2011 season, which starts Aug. 4.

This prompted organizers to launch a public appeal in the artistic community.

And SummerWorks' artistic producer, Michael Rubenfeld, said after the festival put out a call for donations money started pouring in.

"We've received about 70 per cent of our budget shortfall as a result of donations across the nation and even as far away as the United Kingdom," Rubenfeld said.

Rubenfeld said some of Canada's leading actors, writers and directors, whose careers were launched at SummerWorks, are among the donors.

The festival generated controversy last year when it featured a play about a Toronto 18 member.

The Prime Minister's office criticized the festival, saying a play about one of the Toronto 18 suspects glorified terrorism. 

Although there has been no direct connection to the loss of the festival's $48,000 government grant, some leaders in the artistic community are linking the two.

And federal finance minister Jim Flaherty said last week that arts groups should not assume federal funding year after year.

Last August the festival debuted Catherine Frid's play Homegrown, about Shareef Abdelhaleem, who was a member of the infamous group known as the Toronto 18.

At the time, one newspaper quoted people questioning government funding for the festival, suggesting the play was "sympathetic" to groups such as Abdelhaleem's.

However, Frid told The Canadian Press she wasn't expressing sympathy for the group in the play. Rather, she hoped the story would stir up dialogue about life in the post-Sept. 11 world.

Friends Benj Gallander, Greg Holmgren, Carol Pauker, Rob Sherwood and Ben Stadelmann founded the SummerWorks theatre and arts festival in 1991.

It features predominantly new Canadian plays and bills itself as the largest juried festival in Canada.

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