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Church St lit fair cancelled

Writing Outside the Margins scales back for 2009

RAIN CHECK. In past year's Writing Outside the Margins literary festival drew up to 7,000 participants. Credit: Jenna Wakani

Toronto’s queer literary arts festival Writing Outside the Margins is being scaled back dramatically this year. A casualty of the ongoing financial crisis, the street festival — produced by Xtra in partnership with the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) — will be a series of indoor events held throughout the summer rather than a one-day street fair.

“We have a sales team that had tried to get sponsors for the event and things that were promised at the beginning of the year… have not come to fruition,” says Xtra’s community relations manager Brandon Sawh. “With the financial times that we’re facing trying to get support from business and sponsors is difficult.”

In place of the pedestrian-only street event — which for the past two summers saw Church St closed down to cars for one Sunday in August — Sawh says he is looking at the possibility of holding alternate events such as indoor author readings.

“What we will be doing is looking at smaller events… maybe partnering with some other queer literary events,” says Sawh. “It could even be like a full day of reading at a place like Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Those are things that we are still exploring. There will continue to be some sort of Writing Outside the Margins event, it just won’t be a street event.”

Past festivals — which featured readings by celebrity authors like John Cameron Mitchell and Kinnie Starr — have drawn as many as 7,000 participants.

CWVBIA coordinator David Wootton says he was surprised to hear about changes to the festival but went on to say that area merchants have been very understanding and have not voiced any discontent over the switch.

“Because a lot of the merchants are also struggling because of the recessionary situation they understand if things are being cancelled or if we’re not able to put on as large of events as before,” he says.

Sawh says he considered holding a scaled-back version of the festival in Cawthra Square Park but that even with the $10,000 support promised by the CWVBIA the costs would have exceeded the budget. The estimated tab for last year’s fair ran more than $45,000, says Sawh.

“We’ve looked at it being in the park but the raw base cost of the event is still substantial,” he says. “The infrastructure that we would have to take on just to put up a stage, tent, sound and electricity and so on, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s on the street or in a park.”

Sawh says he’s “really appreciative” of the financial support the CWVBIA has provided for the festival in the past two years and hopes the organization will continue to support the event in 2010.

For the moment the CWVBIA isn’t committing. “We are totally behind the event in principal…. it’s a great contribution to the community and to the merchant village,” says Wootton. “However we wouldn’t be deciding our involvement until we see a proposal for 2010.”

“Of course everyone is disappointed,” says Sawh. “Supporting literary festivals and literary arts is important to the community and of course important to Xtra so we’ll just scale it back and look at partnering with other organizations that can use our support, marketing and branding.”

Sawh says he is optimistic that next year’s festival will return to its original size and scope. “Now our focus and efforts will be to try and secure some funding for Writing Outside the Margins in 2010.”

Wootton says it’s unclear what the CWVBIA will do with the money it would’ve spent on the fest, but that it’ll be “put back into a pot” for other projects.