Pride Toronto has asked City Hall for an annual cash injection this year to the tune of $150,000, with a council budget vote scheduled for this month.
At about 15 percent of its operating budget, the amount is nothing to sneeze at. The budget for Pride festivities increased to more than $900,000 in 2004 from $569,000 in 2002. This year executive director Frank Chester says it will top $1-million.
A study funded by Pride in 2002 showed that the festival generated $78-million in revenue for the city. A provincially funded study in 2003 found that Pride generated approximately $80-million for Ontario as a whole, with $57-million within Toronto.
“Pride is recognized as one of the five signature events by the City Of Toronto,” says City Councillor Kyle Rae (Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale). “Now is the time to start assisting it in programming.”
The money would be ongoing annual funding from the city’s Cultural Grants Program.
“I made a motion to include Pride Toronto in the list of major cultural grants and try to get $150,000 in this year’s budget,” says Rae. City staff did a study on Pride and submitted a report that supports its eligibility as a major cultural organization.
The city has not traditionally given Pride any cash, though it waives charges for services like street closures and policing, which amounts to savings of tens of thousands of dollars each year.
In the aftermath of 9/11 in 2001 and SARS in 2003, Pride Toronto has had problems getting corporate sponsors. Companies like Air Canada have pulled out, leaving organizers continually scrambling for cash. Part of the problem is that, while the festival continues to grow, a higher attendance doesn’t equal more money.
“There’s no relationship between attendees and revenue,” says Chester. “When we get a bigger crowd, we need more security, barricades and toilets. It’s a free event, not like a dance where you can collect a lot of money.”
There is a toonie drive soliciting donations from attendees. The beer gardens also provide a chunk of Pride funding. Organizers did secure one-time provincial and city funding in 2003, valued at $212,000, and have had the federal government come on as a paid sponsor.
“We can’t continue to do this without finding new sources of revenue,” says Chester. “Each year we are challenged by disappearing grant revenue, finicky corporate interest and the possibility of bad weather.”
The event has grown faster than Pride Toronto had predicted, as has the organization: There are now four full-time staff members; in 2002 there was a single part-time staff person.
Rae says Pride’s not asking for special treatment. Caribana has received more than $450,000 annually for many years.
Chester says that in Caribana’s case the government didn’t step up with funds until it was on the brink of being cancelled.
“It got the city and province to wake up and lend a hand,” says Chester. “That’s not our strategy – we hope to be proactive.” Chester says he does not want to be in a position where he has to ask for a bailout.
Rae says that at the initial meeting of the city’s Economic Development And Parks Committee the only concerns raised were about how it fit into the funding model, whether the staff had researched it and what kind of financial impact the festival had on Toronto’s economy.