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Theatre & Performance Josephine Ridge: Stepping down as Luminato’s artistic director was ‘a really hard decision to make’

Luminato artistic director Josephine Ridge is photographed on June 5, 2017.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Luminato artistic director Josephine Ridge is leaving after only two years in the job because the Toronto organization can’t sustain her vision for the multidisciplinary arts festival.

“When I was interviewed, I presented a vision, which I stand by,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s my call that the business model doesn’t provide the resources to enable me to continue pursuing that vision. It’s the right time for a new artistic director to come who can understand the parameters and embrace that. … It’s really about a total shift in the scale of operations.”

Luminato, which in many years has raised less than 10 per cent of its budget from ticket sales, has shrunk in recent years as the Ontario government has scaled back on large, direct grants to the 12-year-old festival. The annual budget stood at $11-million in 2016 when Luminato celebrated its 10th anniversary with a blowout event in a crumbling industrial cathedral, the mothballed Hearn Generating Station in Toronto’s Port Lands. The following year, as Ms. Ridge took over from outgoing artistic director Jorn Weisbrodt, she had only $6.5-million and a single commissioned show left in the cupboards for the 2017 edition. Box office dropped by more than two-thirds while contributions from all levels of government had fallen from $6.2-million to $4.2-million. (The budget was static in 2018, but attendance at both ticketed and free events bounced back, rising 50 and 20 per cent respectively over 2017.)

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Mr. Weisbrodt had brought high-flying international connections to Toronto; Ms. Ridge, an Australian who had previously led the festivals in both Melbourne and Sydney, focused on better connecting Luminato to Toronto. Her two festivals have still featured the critically acclaimed European performance troupes to which the two-week event has often treated Toronto but have also incorporated strong local themes. In 2017, there was an emphasis on Indigenous art; in 2018, the themes were human rights, the justice system and the status of women. This year’s playbill included international human-rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the artists-in-exile of the Belarus Free Theatre, the Ukrainian-Canadian musical duo Mark and Marichka Marczyk, the Irish cabaret troupe thisispopbaby and Toronto theatre artist Liza Balkan.

“It was a really hard decision to make and it was made even harder because of the fantastic relations at the festival and with artists in Toronto,” Ms. Ridge said of her departure. “It’s a rich and interesting artistic community. I didn’t want to feel I was letting people down.”

Ms. Ridge said that when festival staff and outside observers debate Luminato’s role in its second decade, they agree it has to strive to be relevant and engaged, but she concluded the money originally set aside for the job had been exhausted.

“Looking ahead to the foreseeable future, the business model is not going to be able to provide the resources for the vision I brought with me and I was appointed to deliver,” she said.

Ms. Ridge, who is now looking for a new job, has not set a departure date and says she will stay around for a few months to tidy up loose ends.

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