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Luminato Festival Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt presents the festival's full program happening June 6-15th in Toronto during a press conference on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)
Luminato Festival Artistic Director Jorn Weisbrodt presents the festival's full program happening June 6-15th in Toronto during a press conference on Tuesday, April 8, 2014. (Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail)

Documents reveal Luminato festival funding problems; $15-million reserve nearly depleted Add to ...

As for the Liberals, even if they are re-elected, Luminato is set to get less money than it has been receiving to date. Indeed, Price, who has had conversations with all the party leaders, has asked for a decreased amount – though she won’t say exactly how much. “We’ve been talking about reducing dependence on provincial funding,” she says.

It looks like a real fiscal cliff – but Price believes she and the board saw it coming, and have prepared for it. There is a $1-million, one-time payment associated with the PanAm Games that will help cover the gap in 2015. Boston Consulting Group, the firm where Luminato’s late founder Pecaut worked, recently completed a study (pro bono) figuring out how to avert a crisis, tabled with the board last month. It recommends lining up more corporate sponsors, finding new private donors – and, as will be clear to festivalgoers this year, boosting earned revenue by selling tickets to concerts by the Roots and TV On the Radio at the festival hub (as well as turning that hub into the city’s largest licensed outdoor patio).

Of course, this leads to a Catch-22: Having Torontonians pay for concerts that might have been free in previous editions and boosted attendance numbers will make it harder for Price and Weisbrodt to make the case that Luminato, in the parlance of the potential PC government, “gives taxpayers good value.”

If the festival’s leaders really don’t intend to reduce the budget from its current $11-million to $12-million range, how Luminato spends its money will no doubt come under greater scrutiny from the public and politicians going forward – particularly in the area of salaries. There’s a pay freeze in effect now, but, according to the Sunshine List, Weisbrodt’s pay jumped 18 per cent from about $146,000 to $173,000 last year, while Price’s salary crept up over $400,000 even as provincial funding was declining and the board-restricted reserve fund was running low. “I think there are cultural executives who are very much in a comparable range,” says Price, noting the Sunshine figures include pension contributions and a vehicle allowance.

As for the portion of the budget that goes to art and artists, Luminato has in the past raised eyebrows when, for instance, the festival reportedly poured a whopping $1-million into British director Tim Supple’s production of 1001 Nights – a show that underwhelmed in 2011 and had only a limited life afterward.

On that front, Luminato is definitely spending more wisely under Weisbrodt than his charisma- and connection-light predecessor Chris Lorway, as the new German-born artistic director has made sure to line up partners to share costs before commissioning works.

While big international names such as Barney are nabbing the most attention this year, Luminato is also supporting Canadian performances such as a promising cinema/theatre hybrid by turntablist and graphic novelist Kid Koala called Nufonia Must Fall (directed by K.K. Barrett, the incredible Oscar-nominated production designer of Her). After Toronto, Kid Koala – a.k.a. Vancouver’s Eric San – will travel with the show to the Adelaide Festival, as well as make other important stops in Hamburg and Santiago thanks to Weisbrodt’s influence. And all for a fraction of what 1001 Nights cost. “Ironically, it would appear that we’re investing less, but we’re actually getting bigger bang from our buck,” says Price.

As for the high-end marquee programming, after the appearance of theatre director Robert Wilson and performance artist Marina Abramovic in recent years, followed by news the late Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal company would be coming with Kontakthof, Luminato has threatened to develop a reputation of being where you can see what was avant-garde in the 1970s today. (Kontakthof was created in 1978 and toured to Montreal, Ottawa and New York way back in 1985.)

As he settles into his role, Weisbrodt is increasingly shining a light on new artists too – and this year, shows by the American performance artist Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell and Argentine director Mariano Pensotti promise to lure those international festival hoppers who want to see who will be the next Abramovic or Wilson. (As someone who has regularly travelled to the Avignon Festival on my own dime, this is the type of programming that excites me, in any case.)

The leadership of Luminato is nothing if not savvy – but it remains to be seen if their connections will help them where it really matters now, finding corporations and donors willing to cover a budget gap for which, Price admits, “there is no magic bullet.”

Follow me on Twitter: @nestruck

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