2 min

Literary stage a casualty of Pride Toronto cost-cutting

Organizers confident books will balance if city funding comes through

Credit: Xtra file photo

This year Pride Toronto (PT) has been tightening its belt since seeing red with a $430,000 deficit in 2010. One casualty of the cost-cutting is the Pride Literary Stage.

Zoe Whittall, a writer featured prominently in that programming, says it was tough to get audiences to the stage, but it’s an important part of the roster to showcase local talent. “I think it’s sad. It was a wonderful program. I always had a lot of fun participating.”

Festival spokesperson Peter McHugh says artists and writers have now been dispersed throughout a variety of stages. “The programming wasn’t cut, just the physical location… That’s not a reflection of our appreciation of literature. It is just part of the reductions to expenditures across the board.”

And the literary stage isn’t alone, he says. PT says Pride-goers will notice a much more frugal festival this year. There is also no stage at Queen’s Park or any stage north of Wellesley St.

For about a decade, PT has been ballooning in size at a rapid pace. Now facing uncertainty about its city funding, PT must pull back the reins and get the balance sheet back into the black.

Interim executive director Glen Brown says cutting costs means fewer stages and beer gardens, fewer expensive marquee performers and staff learning to do more with less. Last year’s $2.5-million budget has now been trimmed to between $1.5 and $2 million, Brown says.

“One of the things the CAP (Community Advisory Panel) heard was that Pride needs to slow down the growth,” Brown says. “The community spoke and said we don’t need a great big festival. We need to feel like it’s ours. So I’m not heartbroken at all to say we are restraining the size of this thing.”

More than $100,000 was spent on the Pride guide last year, McHugh says. “This year, those costs were absorbed by the Toronto Star as part of their sponsorship with PT.”

Brown says the biggest savings have come through cutting staff. “We have a lot fewer bodies around than we did a year ago. Counting only those that currently get paid, we have six staff. A year ago, the number would be at least twice that. That’s where most of the costs were… Having said that, I would say Pride is understaffed for what we would normally need to do… Luminato employs 60 full-time year-round staff.” The festival has about 1,000 volunteers.

Other ways the festival is offsetting costs is by renting fewer walkie-talkies and pursuing more in-kind services, McHugh says. PT has also reduced expenditures from previous years by cutting office expenses, transportation, conference attendance and travel.

“Despite the cost-cutting, I’m pretty confident we are going to deliver a fabulous event,” Brown says, and, he adds, if city funding comes through, the organization is on track for achieving a balanced budget.

But, he warns, city funding is still – somewhat – up in the air. In May, Toronto council determined that funding is still conditional and will be handed over after this year’s parade is over. In 2010, PT received a $123,807 grant and about $250,000 worth of in-kind services from the city, including garbage cleanup and policing.

“We will be in trouble if the city decides to yank the funding,” Brown admits. PT has already been warned that another year carrying a deficit would likely mean the end of WorldPride in 2014.