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Popular Orangeville Blues & Jazz Festival ‘likely’ to return in 2021




By Mike Baker

The Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival will, in all likelihood, return in 2021 says Larry Kurtz, one of the founders and lead organizers of the annual summertime downtown event. 

Despite running into some significant financial difficulties stemming from the cancellation of this year's festival, originally set to run from June 5 to 7 in Orangeville, the event's executive have worked hard over the past few months in an attempt to balance the books. At the time of cancelling the 2020 festival, Mr. Kurtz says his group had incurred operating costs of approximately $73,000 – money the organization could not get back, and needed to account for before pushing forward with plans to regroup for next year. 

A financial recovery plan was quickly developed, which essentially relied on some of the festival's “key stakeholders”, as Mr. Kurtz described them, kicking in funds to offset the shortfall. As of Monday afternoon, that recovery effort sat at $44,540, with TD Bank contributing $15,000, Central Counties Tourism offering $10,440, the Orangeville Business Improvement Area providing $10,000 and the Department of Canadian Heritage giving $9,100. 

Over the years, the Town of Orangeville has been a big supporter of the local Blues and Jazz Festival. As a part of the municipality's 2020 community grant process, the Town, pre-COVID-19, agreed to pitch in $17,150 towards this year's event. Back in July, Council voted to reduce that contribution by 75 percent to $4,287. 

On Monday, the Town's elected officials debated whether they should reconsider that decision. Mr. Kurtz joined the meeting via Zoom to ask that Council fulfill their original promise. 

“I feel like we have a great festival. We'd like to ensure we can continue bringing the best festival possible to the residents of Orangeville,” Mr. Kurtz said. “This year, because of the pandemic, we're facing a loss financially. We are not able to collect income like we usually do. This money the Town allocated to us back in the spring is really important to us, to allow us to continue to move forward and try to plan for what we're going to do when we get back at it.”

In a letter submitted to Council, Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival President Josh Leitch says the annual event brings enormous economic benefits to the community.

“The Festival has been operating successfully at the highest level for the past 17 years, and has become of the Town's and County's primary community and tourism events. Over $1.4 million in economic impact is generated annually as a result of the Festival, and over 35,000 people attend the Festival throughout the three-day period,” Mr. Leitch wrote. “Clearly, the Town is one of the primary beneficiaries of the Festival, and the economic and social value to the community and the Town represents a value far greater than the $17,150 investment made by the Town through its community grants program.”

He continued, “It would be highly unlikely that the Town could produce an event on this scale without making a significantly greater investment in both financial and personnel resources.”

With the Blues and Jazz Festival executive still working to recoup a significant portion of the $73,000 it lost planning for its 2020 event, Mr. Leitch feels a decision by the Town to significantly reduce its contribution makes it extremely difficult for he and his team to move forward. 

“The local business community has suffered significant financial setbacks due to the effect of the pandemic, and the ability for local businesses to support the Festival at this time is almost non-existent,” Mr. Leitch stated. “It sends a very mixed message to the community and other funding partners for the Town to reduce its financial support to the Festival by 75 percent, when clearly the Festival is considered such an important resource for the community.”

Many members of Council took the opportunity to comment on the situation on Monday, with all of those who spoke reiterating their support for the Blues and Jazz Festival. Deputy Mayor Andy Macintosh, who voted against the decision back in July to reduce the money allocated to the local group, called on his fellow members to reconsider their vote. 

Coun. Lisa Post felt it was important for Council to be consistent in its approach towards the community grant program. With this in mind, she wondered if the Town could allocate money to the Blues and Jazz Festival from elsewhere. 

“I think the community grant guidelines are clear. Unfortunately, through no fault of the Blues and Jazz (committee), they weren't able to deliver a festival this year. For other organizations who weren't able to deliver, we've asked for them to return the funds (we allocated),” Ms. Post said. “My concern is to the process itself. This is in no way against the Blues and Jazz Festival, they are a huge asset to the community, and I would love to be able to help them. I just don't know that the community grant process is the right way to help them.”

Coun. Todd Taylor echoed Coun. Post's sentiments, going so far as to say “we've got to be the worst Council ever on grant processes”, and “we can't stick to a rule (regarding Town grants) if our life depended on it”. 

Ms. Post suggested the Town could take funds from its COVID-19 relief contingency to fulfill the municipality's initial contribution to the festival. Council voted unanimously to do so, with Coun. Debbie Sherwood abstaining from voting due to a conflict of interest. 

Thinking more long-term, Coun. Post suggested that Council consider removing the Blues and Jazz Festival from consideration during the annual community grant review process, and instead consider setting up a new way to support the event year over year. 

“If we're going to consistently support the Blues and Jazz Festival, because of the economic development piece (it brings to the town), maybe this is a budget item we need to consider that's different from the community grant process,” Coun. Post said. “That way, we're able to help smaller organizations looking for additional funding as well.”

Back in March, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Town agreed to dish out $80,150 to 15 community organizations to support a variety of events and causes in 2020. At $17,150, the Blues and Jazz Festival was far and away the largest recipient on the list. 

Now, with a little more money in their back pocket, Mr. Kurtz said the Blues and Jazz Festival executive would be shifting their focus towards 2021. 

“We typically start planning in September for the following June, so the sooner we hear (from the provincial government regarding the hosting of public events), the better for us. We have a good plan in place, and we definitely want to put on a festival in some form next year,” Mr. Kurtz said. “We want to plan to run a great event, it's just a matter of what it will look like.”

Post date: 2020-09-18 12:59:00
Post date GMT: 2020-09-18 16:59:00
Post modified date: 2020-09-25 13:43:11
Post modified date GMT: 2020-09-25 17:43:11
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