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Financial troubles force some Toronto festivals to scale back

Rising costs, a lack of funding and changing audience habits are forcing several Toronto festivals to scale back as they continue to struggle in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Kennedy, executive director of the Toronto Fringe Festival, said the festival saw 100 shows last year but it will present 80 shows across the city this year.

“We know people want to get involved. We know there is room and appetite for us to expand again, and come back into that 100 plus shows, but what we need right now is the funding to be able to subsidize that many shows,” Kennedy said.

Josh Grossman, artistic director of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, said organizers are making some small changes as the festival adapts to new financial realities.

“It’s about supporting the most musicians while being fiscally responsible,” Grossman said.

“We really recognize the role we play in being a community gathering point not just for jazz lovers but for music lovers across the city,” he said. “It’s really important for us to create that gathering point with so many free concerts as well.”

City developing festivals strategy

Arianne Robinson, spokesperson for Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow, said festivals are a priority for the mayor.

“The mayor believes no other city in the world has this capacity for unique harmonious gatherings. These festivals allow the city to celebrate our cultures, while fostering the sense of belonging that defines Toronto,” she said.

“Our office is working with local councillors and community organizers to find solutions to the problems each face. The city is developing a festivals strategy to support the dynamic and livable activities Torontonians love. This includes promoting funding partnerships and finding ways of reducing the barriers that festivals face.”

To help festivals with rising security and policing costs, the city’s 2024 budget has allocated $10 million from the city’s major special event reserve fund.

Torontonians need to support festivals, official says

Dave MacNeil, CEO of Festival and Events Ontario, said, “I think over the last two years a number of festivals had to look inwards at themselves and their audience and a lot of them have started from the grassroots again to build everything up from the volunteer bases and audience and everything else.”

Kathy Motton, spokesperson for Destination Toronto, said it’s important for Toronto residents to support local festivals, particularly as they strive to exist in hard times.

“I think it’s really a call to action for us who live in this city — get out there, support our arts and culture, support the festivals, the museums, the theatre — all the things that make this city so wonderful,” she said.

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