This is the second part of a three-part series about Vancouver Island MusicFest funding.
Artistic director/executive producer Doug Cox said Vancouver Island MusicFest is among a handful of about 40 festivals in Western Canada that pay to use its site.
Another is the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, which has invested about $150,000 into irrigation, landscaping and riding ring relocation at its site, which does not have electricity. Power costs run about $35,000 a year.
But that event also receives $40,000 from the town — a $10,000 increase from three years ago.
“We would like to see more money,” executive director Hugo Rampen said. “We think we’re responsible for being a major economic driver within the community.”
Initially, festival staff used the money for capital improvements to the site. However, using the argument of a significant return on the investment, they convinced the town that money could later be used for operations.
A 2005 economic study conducted by college students estimates the event, with an attendance of 16,000, was responsible for a $2 million to $4 million economic impact in Salmon Arm. Since then, Rampen said attendance has topped out at about 34,000. It now assumes a $4 million to $6 million impact as the festival heads into its 21st year.
This year, Thompson Rivers University is conducting an economic impact study, possibly using a template created by the Province.
“Arts and culture as an economic driver, I think, is an important aspect of what we all do,” Rampen said. “People see the music or the visual art and they just think it’s nice. But when you get down to it there are people buying fuel, they’re going to restaurants, they’re staying in hotels.”
Estimates indicate about 70 per cent of a $1.3 million budget is spent in the Interior of B.C. Rampen says about 55 per cent of that money is spent in Salmon Arm.
“Our payroll here alone is a quarter-million dollars. I think all of those things are important for municipalities to realize when they look at the impact of events like ours,” Rampen said. “Salmon Arm has really been hit hard by the local recession, and we’ve been considered sort of the last hope because tourism has really taken a knock.”
The Salmon Arm event has lost money some years while others have been profitable. The same applies to MusicFest, which lost $95,000 one year.
Rampen notes, however, that sold out does not necessarily translate into profit.
“Costs go up but we want to keep tickets affordable,” he said.
One issue Salmon Arm faces is high accommodation prices. The performer accommodation bill alone totals about $80,000 over three days.
One means of offsetting this cost is an outreach project called routes and blues — concerts are staged in outlying communities that typically generate tourism revenue but suffered during the recession because Albertans weren’t visiting.
The festival makes money by profit-sharing at the gate while the community keeps meal and bar money. Last year, Rampen said the community of Seymour Arm grossed about $7,000.
Vancouver Folk Festival artistic director Linda Tanaka, who started the Roots and Blues Festival in Salmon Arm, said senior governments consider municipalities’ contributions to festivals when considering grant applications.
“If the municipality doesn’t think the festival is worth anything — that they don’t contribute to the arts — then that’s sort of reflected in what you get usually in other granting as well,” she said. “That festival (MusicFest) is contributing to the local economy.”
She said the Vancouver event draws a significant number of attendees from Pacific Northwest states. Similarly, about 60 to 70 per cent of MusicFest and Salmon crowds come from outside the host area.
“That’s a high number, that’s a good economic spinoff,” Tanaka said. “If they’re (visitors) from off-Island, I would say they’re (municipalities) all getting a bit of a spinoff from it.”
Cox identifies two problems in the Comox Valley.
Firstly, the festival gets bounced back and forth between the City of Courtenay and the regional district, each saying it’s the other’s matter. The Exhibition Grounds belong to the district but fall within Courtenay’s boundaries — as do the sports and aquatic centres.
Each Valley municipality and electoral area pays into the Exhibition Grounds service. Because MusicFest is a Valley-wide event, Cox feels each local government should kick in funds.
Before last year’s event, he said the Comox Valley Folk Society spent $400,000 locally, a large portion on suppliers of construction.
“We are probably the largest spender to those parts of the community of any arts event that happens in northern Vancouver Island,” Cox said.
Perhaps a bigger issue not discussed is a shift in the economy from industrialism to creative communities. The latter — which Cox feels is critical to the Valley — could refer to computer companies, self-publishers or artists.
“One of the driving economic forces in communities that are successful is that you want to draw people who move to the community who believe in a certain lifestyle of high quality. A huge part of that is high end quality in art, music, theatre, restaurants, clothing.
“It means that young people who are going to be the economic drivers in any small town are going to choose to live there because of the quality of life. I don’t see any vision at all that leans that way from any of our local politicians because there’s still that thinking that way.
“One of the arguments of not funding MusicFest from their perspective is that we’re successful, so why should we fund you? We’re a huge economic driver in this community, we are a huge flag for the quality of life in this community.”
Cox could name at least 10 festival attendees who wound up moving to the Valley.
“It goes far beyond the finances that we raise over the weekend. Most of the communities in Canada that are blossoming do so because they support the arts with municipal funding, whether the organization is successful or not.”
See Thursday’s Comox Valley Record for Part Three of this three-part series: What do Valley politicians think about MusicFest?