The province of Ontario is backing Luminato again, promising the well-connected Toronto arts festival an annual grant for the next three years – albeit at a new, reduced level. Festival chief executive officer Janice Price informed the board this week that the province will be providing $2.5-million annually from 2015 to 2017.
The renewal gives the multidisciplinary festival some breathing space as it attempts to wean itself from heavy provincial subsidies. More than a third of its budget is covered by three levels of government, putting it on par for public grants with European arts festivals but well above comparable Canadian organizations, most of which receive their money from arm's-length arts councils rather than directly from government.
"We were anticipating it would decrease; we have been planning for less funding," Price said. "We are very comparable with our global peers. We don't see [government financing] going away entirely, but we have been discussing with the province that over time they would like to see their contribution decline as a percentage of the total budget."
This year, the festival received $2.5-million from Ontario plus an extra million to program cultural events for the 2015 PanAm Games; in previous years, the grant has also averaged between $3-million and $3.5-million.
More important than the decrease in the annual grant, however, is the status of the festival's reserve fund: Luminato has almost depleted a special $15-million fund that was established by the province in 2007 to pay for commissioning new work. Originally intended to last only three years, that fund now stands at $1-million.
Both the festival's international credentials and its support from the Canadian arts community depend on it spending large amounts commissioning new works from high-profile artists rather than simply booking touring shows. On the other hand, its public support depends on its popular free offerings.
In an attempt to earn more revenue this year, Luminato starting charging an entrance fee for outdoor concerts in David Pecaut Square: Fans had to pay for three of 10 nights during the 10-day festival. The area was also licensed for the first time, boosting food and beverage sales. Organizers also tried to program their most popular offerings in larger venues: For example, the star-studded If I Loved You concert of male duets, featuring Rufus Wainwright, Boy George, David Byrne, Steven Page and Brent Carver, was performed in the 3,100-seat Sony Centre.
Such changes resulted in a large increase in ticket sales – Luminato sold 42,000 tickets in 2014, up from 25,000 the year before – but not a great boost in profit. Price's preliminary numbers show the 2014 festival will post a small surplus of $150,000, down from $500,000 in 2013. Ticket sales only account for about $1-million in revenue in the festival's $11.5-million
Price said increasing corporate sponsorship and private philanthropy will be more important when it comes to replacing government funding at the festival, which also received about $1-million from the federal government and $340,000 from the City of Toronto.
Luminato was founded in 2006 by David Pecaut, a business consultant who died in 2009, and by Tony Gagliano, CEO of St. Joseph Communications, which publishes Toronto Life. Blessed with strong connections to the provincial Liberal party, it was ambitiously intended to both boost civic pride, and increase local and international tourism in Toronto in the aftermath of the SARS crisis. Today it estimates it generates $600-million in economic activity in Ontario and creates the equivalent of 600 full-time jobs.