Tom Cochrane and Red Rider was a headliner at the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest in Courtenay. Photo by Terry Farrell

Vancouver Island MusicFest seeks funding support from local governments

Vancouver Island MusicFest generates about $4.2 million a year to the Comox Valley economy, according to organizers of the annual gathering at the exhibition grounds. At 26 years and counting, that exceeds $100 million.

The festival’s annual operating budget is about $1.4 million. Nearly $400,000 was spent with local suppliers for the 2019 event. Three to four per cent of funding comes from senior governments, the BC Arts Council, the BC Touring Council and Creative BC. The balance comes from ticket sales, in-kind support, raffles and other fundraisers.

In recent years, MusicFest has either lost money or broke even. Due to rising costs, the financial reserve was exhausted for this year’s event.

“Due to increasing costs across the board, we can no longer meet our expenses with this amount of funding,” Doug Cox, the festival’s artistic director and executive producer, said in a presentation to Courtenay council Dec. 2.

Organizers are asking the City to contribute $20,000 a year for three years. They made the same request at regional district.

“The importance of the three-year partnership will help us establish stable funding, and ensure that Vancouver Island MusicFest will continue,” marketing/media manager Sue Wood said.

She notes other festivals rely on local government funding. Comox Nautical Days, for instance, receives an annual grant of $25,000 and in-kind support.

Coun. David Frisch feels the request falls under economic development, and fits into the MRDT (hotel) tax.

“That would be a good place to try and find funding,” he said. “I think we need to address this at the regional level.”

“As far as I know, we’re spending much, much more than what you’re asking for on our Seafood Festival through that tax,” Coun. Melanie McCollum said.

She asked if they’ve spoken with staff at the Comox Valley Economic Development Society (CVEDS).

“We unfortunately had a very toxic relationship with CVEDS,” Cox said, recalling the first two winter festivals. “We ended up losing $40,000 of our money that we weren’t supposed to be responsible for to start off with. So if we could bypass CVEDS and go directly to the hoteliers, maybe that’s a path we should take.”

Coun. Manno Theos questioned why MusicFest only receives three or four per cent through larger funding grants, while other events receive most funding through federal monies.

Until recently, Cox said they were always trying to run the festival without seeking funding support.

“As far as I know, we’re the only festival our size in Western Canada that receives federal and provincial funding and no municipal funding.”

Heritage Canada supports MusicFest with a $50,000 annual grant.

“They’ve bumped us up $10,000 a year just recently in our grant from them,” Cox said. “But in order for us to receive more federal and provincial funding, they want to see some commitment from the local support as well that way.”

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