John Vickers on Government Street

John Vickers on Government Street

No cash for buskers

Festival, which attracts more than 200,000 spectators, shut out of B.C. arts grants

An annual arts festival expected to attract up to 200,000 people to downtown Victoria won’t be receiving provincial funding this year, leaving its organizer with some difficult cost-cutting decisions.

The free Victoria International Buskers Festival takes place July 19 to 28, featuring actors, musicians, dancers and acrobats on outdoor stages on Government and Langley streets.

Organizer John Vickers said he was rejected for B.C. Creative Communities and B.C. community gaming grants, despite receiving $20,000 from the province in 2012.

“It’s a bitter pill to swallow when you feel you’re doing this for a better downtown, and during the festival itself we really don’t make a lot of revenue,” Vickers said. “I’m looking at cutting back on portable washrooms and seating, for starters.”

Last year, the festival created $3 million in direct and indirect spending in the Capital Region, prompting the Capital Regional District and City of Victoria to renew $16,500 in grants for this year’s event. Heritage Canada is also providing a $20,000 grant.

But Vickers said even with strong corporate sponsors, the public funding isn’t enough.

“Our annual budget is around $165,000 and we are busy throughout the year. I don’t get (the City of Victoria grant) until the month of the festival … it’s just a struggle,” he said.

Last December, Victoria city council approved $156,000 in festival grants, but any increase in funding would need to be a regional discussion, said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

“Does every community have a small Canada Day festival, for example, or does everyone contribute to the $200,000 to $300,000 festival that happens in the downtown core? It’s recognizing that these events promote the region,” Fortin said.

The B.C. government benefited from the buskers festival last year to the tune of $79,000 in tax revenue, according to an Economic Planning Group report.

Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Carole James said she’s surprised the province hasn’t stepped up to fund a festival that has proven itself as an economic driver.

“It’s very short sighted to not approve this grant, particularly when you’re a month and a half away from the festival,” James said.

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development is providing $16.8 million in arts grants this year through the B.C. Arts Council and other programs.

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the B.C. Arts Council rejected funding for the Victoria International Buskers Festival. In fact, the festival society applied for a B.C. Creative Communities grant.