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Festival goers attend MusicFest Vancouver event at the Van Dusen Gardens in 2011. (HANDOUT)
Festival goers attend MusicFest Vancouver event at the Van Dusen Gardens in 2011. (HANDOUT)

MusicFest Vancouver confirms 2013 festival suspended Add to ...

The founding artistic director of MusicFest Vancouver says he is devastated – but not surprised – that the festival has had to cease operations due to financial difficulties, and pointed the finger at the provincial government.

“I’m feeling quite devastated, but I’ve known it was coming for a couple months because they knew at the end of the festival that there was going to be $150,000 deficit and they already had a $50,000 deficit from the past,” George Laverock said on Tuesday, after MusicFest’s president confirmed the 2013 festival would be suspended.

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“We are very proud of our 12 years of tremendous classical, jazz, and world music experiences each August and throughout B.C.,” said festival president Morris Biddle in a statement. “However, in common with many arts organizations, we have experienced reductions in all sources of revenue to the extent that we cannot meet our current financial obligations and we as an organization must examine all possible solutions and outcomes going forward.”

Mr. Laverock says the festival, with an annual budget of about $1-million, received only $5,000 from the B.C. Arts Council.

“I think you have to ask how could a festival like this survive when it gets such poor support from the provincial government,” said Mr. Laverock. “When I tell people that a festival like this with a budget over $1-million got $5,000 from the B.C. Arts Council this year, people say that’s scandalous. Well I agree. That’s scandalous. … Not that they’re not doing their job properly. They don’t have the money. It’s just not a priority at all for this government.”

Matthew Baird, who succeeded Mr. Laverock as artistic director this year, said the festival struggled, but couldn’t manage to stay afloat.

“Despite excellent publicity and marketing, a strong artistic lineup, and terrific work from a very experienced and dedicated production team, the Festival did not sell enough tickets to cover expenses, and had an increase in its accumulated deficit. Finding the necessary funding from governments, foundations, corporate and public sectors has continued to be a challenge, especially with an organization and staff of our size,” wrote Mr. Baird in an e-mail on Monday, in response to a request for an interview by The Globe.

“Over the last couple of months we have been doing what we can to keep things afloat, and to address the funding shortfalls that have been incurred,” wrote Mr. Baird, stressing that he no longer retains any official capacity with the festival. He added that a number of creditors – including artists who performed during last summer’s festival – are still owed money.

“Our Board of Directors will continue to find ways to solve our financial difficulties and seek options that would allow MusicFest Vancouver to resume its mandate of providing world class classical, jazz and world music throughout B.C.” said Mr. Biddle in the statement released Tuesday.

Katharine Carol, artistic and executive director of the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, which shares office space with MusicFest, says staff for MusicFest are no longer coming to the office, but the space has not been cleared of their belongings.

“It’s horrifying,” she said. “They’ve been fantastic partners for us in terms of sharing space and sharing resources … and I think it’s just a wonderful festival, so I hope they have an opportunity to try to work out a way to keep it going.”

For the last 12 years, MusicFest Vancouver has presented an ambitious program of classical, jazz and world music at various venues in August. Artists who have performed at the festival include Ute Lemper, Bobby McFerrin and Sarah McLachlan.

“Unfortunately, the issue of money owed to creditors is likely to eclipse the accomplishments of 12 years of wonderful programming,” wrote Mr. Baird, who joined the festival this year.

“Whether there is any public outcry will be interesting to observe.”

In light of the news, Music on Main artistic director David Pay, who sat on MusicFest’s program advisory committee, called on the provincial government to increase arts funding.

“In all of this, I have to say I remain exceptionally hopeful, especially on the private funding front. There are individuals who care deeply and there are lots of opportunities for people to engage in art in this city. And seeing a big one go down is heartbreaking. But I think donors can have every confidence and I think corporations can have confidence that when they continue to contribute to the organizations they love, they can be assured that those charities can continue to do great work bringing performing arts to Vancouver.”

MusicFest’s board is encouraging anyone who wants to assist to make a donation to the festival through Canada Helps.

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