The Mission Folk Music Festival may have a reduced programming schedule this year due to serious financial struggles but will not be cancelled, according to organizers.
The festival’s website has a “300×300 Funding Campaign,” asking 300 people to donate $300 each, which would amount to $90,000. But the page lists only seven donors so far, including its general manager Michelle Demers-Shaevitz and its board chair, John Vissers.
He said many forces have combined in recent years to make putting on the annual three-day festival more challenging.
He said this year the low Canadian dollar is making it increasingly difficult to book acts.
“American acts are out of the question,” he said, adding that other Canadian festivals are in the same boat and, as a result, demand is higher for Canadian acts, pushing up the cost to book them as well.
Vissers said that acts from other parts of the world may now have the choice between Mission and an American festival, and it is only rational for them to choose the one that can pay them nearly 150 per cent of a Canadian offer.
“I’m not saying this is going to be what kills us, but it’s just all of these things combined have made it incredibly difficult,” said Vissers.
Government funding has been another challenge for the festival, especially in recent years. The District of Mission usually grants the festival $5,000 towards renting Fraser River Heritage Park from the Mission Heritage Association. The district, which as of this year manages the park, has given the festival the go-ahead to use the park.
“This is hopeful. I think they recognize now that this cultural festival is really important to the community and the local businesses,” said Vissers, who noted the current relationship with city hall is the best it has been. “And I’m hoping they’re going to step up and help us.”
Vissers said he hasn’t made any specific grant applications to the district but hopes to collaborate with it as well as with the Mission Arts Council.
Funding from both the provincial and federal governments has also diminished in recent years.
A presentation made by Vissers and festival’s general manager Demers-Shaevitz to Mission council did not, however, touch on the festival’s financial struggles but rather highlighted the benefits to the community and some of the shows and events they hoped to bring back back this year.
“We don’t want to go to council saying ‘Oh! Help us.’ We want to say, ‘This is what we have to offer and we want to hear what you can offer us in return.’”
Mayor Randy Hawes said the usual $5,000 grant will now go towards the operating budget for the park, as would any additional funds granted as a result of future applications.
Hawes said that the festival used to receive approximately $15,000 a year in grants from the city. He pointed out that at that time, the festival’s founder and executive director, Francis Xavier Edwards, “was a paid employee of the society and it wasn’t a small amount of money that he was receiving.
Edwards stepped aside this year, after 28 years at the helm, in part due to the stress involved with its organization.
The music festival’s recent struggles have included poor weather
“Since 2009, every third year has been a major weather incident,” said Edwards, which he says includes the 2009 festival when a whole night of shows was cancelled due to a storm, costing approximately $40,000.
And last year, one of the hottest and driest summers on record, had two of the festival’s three days rained on.
“The weather has been bad but the provincial government has been worse,” he said, referring to the loss of gaming grants, which Mission Folk Music Festival and others used to receive, before the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vissers said that an announcement would be made within the next week about the festival’s plan for this year.