Jazz festival funding denied then restored by province

After a major fuss made it to the pages of daily newspapers and national websites, provincial funding to the Beaches International Jazz Festival has been denied and restored in the space of a week.

The story began in mid-March, after festival organizer Lido Chilelli received an email from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport informing him the festival’s application for the Celebrate Ontario grant had been denied, with no explanation.


“It was a shock to us. We received an email saying ‘we regret to inform you that we are not supporting your festival this year’,” said Chilelli. “We deserved a phone call, at the least.”

Chilelli was quick to point out questions about which festivals received funding compared to the jazz festival.

Superstar rapper Drake’s OVO FEST was the most-cited example, receiving $300,000 in funding – for a two-day event at the Molson Amphitheatre with tickets priced at more than $150. Locally, the TD Festival of South Asia received $28,687 this year for a two-day festival in the Gerrard India Bazaar.

Dozens of jazz and music festivals throughout the province received funding. The TD Toronto Jazz Festival received $282,825, while the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival received $300,000. Both consist mainly of paid events, and “none of them compare to the Beaches Jazz Festival in terms of attracting visitors and stimulating economic impact,” said Chilelli.

He pointed out the Beaches festival is free to attend, lacks a title sponsor such as a major bank, yet draws crowds which dwarf those of most other events on the 2014 funded list.

After daily media jumped on the story, Michael Chan, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, quickly released a statement that funding had been found for the Beaches Jazz Festival, from a separate pool of money.

“As we’ve said all along, we value the contribution of the Beaches Jazz Festival and have been a proud partner in their success over the years by providing funding through our various programs.  In January, the Beaches Jazz Festival applied to the Ontario Music Fund and earlier this week was awarded a conditional grant of $75,000,” he said in the statement.

For the previous seven years, the Beaches festival had received $75,000 from the Celebrate Ontario program, allowing the festival to expand into a multi-week affair, with multiple stages along the boardwalk and in Woodbine Park, as well as a youth stage in Kew Gardens, along with the long-standing main stage in Kew Gardens and three-day street festival along Queen Street East.

Chilelli said the festival has achieved exactly what the Celebrate Ontario grant is intended to fund.

“It’s enhanced the festival, it’s brought visitors to the Beach, it’s stimulated economic impact and it’s brought the festival to a world-class level, so it’s been a very successful partnership and investment for all parties involved,” he said.

Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue, who first raised the issue at the provincial legislature, pointed out that many other festivals – many of them paid events – with much smaller attendance received funding from Celebrate Ontario.

“The Beaches Jazz Festival is open and accessible to everyone. It is free to the public. It supports young and emerging musical talent, and it is world-renowned,” said Prue in a statement.

Officials from the ministry did not elaborate on what the criteria for Celebrate Ontario funding are. For 2014, 229 festivals and events, ranging from a blues festival to a rodeo, from the Rogers Cup to the Hunstville Girlfriends’ Getaway Weekend, received funding, out of 441 applications.

“Past funding history is not a factor in decision making,” Christy Arnold, media relations and issues management coordinator for Culture, Tourism and Sport, wrote in an email.

She also said that “priority is given to festivals and events that demonstrate a commitment to growing their tourism market and a strong economic and tourism impact. Festivals and events are also expected to demonstrate strategies that increase tourism visitation and spending.”

Prue has said the festival generates $65 million into the economy, $30 million of that in the East End. An estimated half million people attended the festival last year.

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