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Pride: Cutting through the red tape

New city initiative may not address financial concerns

CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC. Pride co-chair Darren Fisher says new streamlining may help festivals. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

The city of Ottawa has created a one-stop shop for area festivals with the aim of easing the bureaucratic process.

But it isn’t clear how much money it’ll save festivals and the city hasn’t exactly been publicizing the initiative.

The new system, called Event Central, was officially launched on Jun 20, 2005. The system could make it easier for festivals like Pride to get what they need from the city.

Through Event Central, Ottawa Pride should now be able to obtain police, fire department, paramedic, bylaw, parking control and OC Transpo services, simplifying the process significantly. Previously, festival organizers had to go through several layers of bureaucracy for these services.

“We remove a lot of the — I don’t want to say red tape — but it’s a faster process,” says Delores MacAdam, manager of licensing and Event Central.

There have been rumours for years that the city would create such a body for festivals, but the city has, so far, downplayed its creation, saying Event Central is just getting organized.

MacAdam says Event Central did a “soft launch,” telling other city staff that event organizers should contact them directly.

“We have a phone line and we’re getting our website up, but it’s a work in progress,” MacAdam says.

Area festival organizers consider Event Central a good start, but are skeptical about whether it will offer any help in terms of finances.

“It is not clear yet what impact Event Central will have on the issue of city service expenses and high insurance rates, the true obstacles to festival viability,” says Darren Fisher, Pride Ottawa co-chair.

For Pride, it makes sense to worry about reducing insurance and service costs, which can run into thousands of dollars. Pride has more than its share of financial obstacles. The festival currently owes approximately $130,000, including a deficit from this year’s Pride of at least $11,000. It also borrowed $14,000 from its board and committee members in advance of the 2005 festival.

Fisher holds out hope that Event Central will eventually be able to offer some assistance in securing funding and reducing expenses.

“Given the complexity of the city hall bureaucracy, a ‘one-stop shop’ will help reduce some of the confusion and speed up the process,” says Fisher. “I would like to see Event Central assist festivals in reducing administrative hoops, reducing expenses and securing funds.

“If we could reduce the amount of time we spend dealing with city hall and securing adequate funding, we could focus on developing the festival into a celebration which truly reflects our cultural achievements and place in the region and Canada.”

But Julian Armour, president of the Festival Network, says he’s not even convinced that Event Central will save festival organizers much time.

“I’ve heard from different people, ‘Yeah, it could be good, but [festivals] still have to convey their needs for barricades, facilities, staging,'” Armour says. “Whether they do it to one or five people, it doesn’t take that much more time.'”

And he says local festivals will have to push the city much harder for financial support.

“We could be a lot more vocal, frankly,” Armour says. “City council, three years ago, passed a motion saying that they would get per capita spending for Ottawa up to the other major cities. Now it’s important for festivals to say ‘Ottawa deserves the same kind of municipal funding per capita as Toronto.'”

A not-for-profit organization since 1996, the Festival Network advocates for and assists over 35 not-for-profit festivals and special events, including Pride.

Jennifer Fornelli, city committee head for the Festival Network, says even with Event Central, regular funding is a major problem for festivals.

“Festivals are looking for a committment for sustainable funding from the city,” Fornelli says. “Festivals bring in dollars, but also fulfill needs for certain communities.”

Deb Beauregard, manager of Ottawa’s architectural celebration Doors Open, and former senior coordinator of special events for the city, has said that Pride should pitch the city its indirect economic benefits.

“What does affect Ottawa is quality of life,” Beauregard says. “If we have a vibrant gay community or the community at large welcoming the gay community, then people will want to move here,” she says. “That means more people living here, and that will increase the tax base.”