Festivals face series of challenges

Series of challenges has some festival organizers contemplating their future in the city.

Recent actions by the City of Victoria, Tourism Victoria, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) and the businesses on Government Street has some festival organizers contemplating their future in the city.

In late February, the city sent out letters to the festivals advising them the city-owned bleachers, which had originally been purchased for the 1994 Commonwealth  Games, had been deemed to be unsafe and had been sold.

The move left several festival organizers scrambling to make up the shortfall in seating.

Darryl Mar, the executive director of the Victoria International JazzFest is left wondering how his festival’s free concerts at Centennial Square will be accomodated.

“There wasn’t a lot of notice and we haven’t been able to source any replacement seating for those concerts. They didn’t consult with us or have any plans to replace them so I don’t know what we’re going to do at this point,” said Mar.

According to John Vickers, the driving force behind the International Buskers, Chalk Art and Kite Festivals, there are always challenges for festival organizers based on what he believes is a lack of appreciation for the benefits derived from the various festivals in Victoria.

“For years we brought tens of thousands of people down to Government Street for the Chalk Art Festival, yet we’ve never recieved anything but luke-warm support from the merchants there,” said Vikers. “This year we’re looking at relocating that festival to Ship Point. It’s a shame since I know we brought scores of potential customers to the businesses on the street.”

Vickers has also moved the Buskers stage from Government Street, citing a similar lack of support from merchants.

One merchant in the heart of the Government downtown core would only speak to Victoria News on the condition of anonymity.

“We need festivals in the shoulder seasons of April and October, not the summer when these festivals are happening. We already have tourists downtown during the summer and the festivals don’t give us much of a boost. If anything they may take people out of our stores,” she said.

Vickers’ flagship event, the International Buskers Festival, has also been impacted by the bleacher issue, but he said that this is only one of the challenges facing his events. This year the GVHA (Greater Victoria Harbour Authority) has reduced their support for the Buskers Festival, implementing a charge for the use of their land ( a net charge of about $3,000). Similarly, Tourism Victoria has reduced hotel sponsorship for the International Kite Festival, leaving the event with an additional $5,000 in costs.

“You have to remember these events are free to the public and contribute millions of dollars to the local economy,” said Vickers. “All of the festivals, mine and others, have managed to bring life to the downtown in a way nothing else has ever done. People say, ‘the cruise ships bring in tourists so who needs festivals’ but they don’t seem to realize that those ships have other options and the festivals are keeping Victoria on their radar.”