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Pride festival makes modest profit despite rain

Community comes through with support, says Pride president

PLAYFUL PLATINUM PRIDE. Youth were well represented in the Pride Parade Aug 27. Credit: (Pat Croteau photo)

Not even the rain could dampen the Aug 27 Pride Parade and picnic. With the rain pouring on them, community groups frantically rushed to finish building their floats in the gathering area on Commissioners street. But some six minutes before the floats and other entries started down Wellington Street, the rain cleared up.

And stayed away pretty much through the Parade and well into the picnic for this 20th anniversary of Pride in Ottawa.

The crowd lining the route was down much from last year, but that didn’t stop people from laughing and clapping and cheering their favourite politicians, community leaders and floats.

And, with most of the Pride Week’s revenues tallied, including those from other groups that raised funds for the Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee, the verdict is in: the festivities made money despite the inclement weather and the competition from competing private-sector events.

“Right now, 2006 is in the black,” says outgoing president Darren Fisher, moments after handing Capital Xtra a cheque repaying its nearly $18,000 loan to enable Pride to happen this year.

“We’re on course; we turned it around. The community came through. There was an amazing feeling this year. It felt like the old Prides where everyone’s there and enjoying themselves. It left us with a surplus.”

Community groups threw three or four fundraisers during Pride Week to help raise the heavy costs of putting on the festival. And individual donations were up enough to make up for a shortfall in sponsorships, says Fisher. And some 4,000 people paid their entry fee to the post-Parade picnic.

After paying back Capital Xtra, Pride has approximately $5,000 left over, says treasurer Gordon Boissonneault. Plus the group has applied to get $25,000 in rain insurance. That might be a challenge, though, he says. The group is supposed to get its money if there was more than 4mm of rain between the hours of 10am and 3pm. Ottawa got at least 5.2mm of rain that day, but it will be October before Environment Canada can calculate how much fell in the key five hours.

“This festival was fully paid for and there’s a nice cushion in the bank to help us plan for next year,” says Boissonneault. If they get the rain insurance, the money will more or less pay off $26,000 in debts accumulated since 2002, he says — at 25 cents on the dollar. And the group has up to 10 years to pay back, interest free, $50,000 it owes city hall. (In the past year, the committee paid down long-term debt by some $8,000.)

“If the rain insurance doesn’t come through, we’ll have to revisit” the long-term debt, says Boissonneault.

There’s a message for the queer community and for city staff and politicians in this year’s modest success, says Boissonneault, a senior government economist. “If you stick to your guns and stick to a tight plan with strict controls over cost, you can make this work.”

With a little more work on luring sponsorships — Pride managed to bring in only $13,500 worth this year, half of what should be attainable — and with more time to convince city hall to support the festival at a level greater than the $1,000 grant it got this year (and the maximum $4,000 it has ever received), the annual event should be on stable ground, he says.

There are a couple of issues that the Pride Committee and the queer community as a whole need to deal with, say Boissonneault and Fisher. The Saturday evening party in Festival Plaza didn’t bring in strong revenues. And the Women’s Stage that evening was an attendance disaster. The Pride Committee failed badly in getting word out about both events.

As well, it’s been four years since the once lucrative Rainbow Party made a profit. This year’s festival covered off its expenses while competing private-sector events met with more success. True, the committee rushed to put the party together after deciding at a late date to proceed with Pride festivities this year, but then so did the competing producers.

“We really, really, really have to re-evaluate it for next year and maybe not have a Rainbow Party,” says Boissonneault.

Fisher says the queer community has said that they won’t support a dance just because it’s a Pride fundraiser. “Now they go to the best parties,” he says. “That’s a lesson to learn.” The ideal, he believes, is for private promoters to throw the major Pride parties and for them to give a guaranteed cut of revenues to the Pride Committee to pay for the Parade, picnic and the overall festival that makes it possible for the private promoters to throw a party in the first place.

“It allows us to focus our resources on the day of. And it allows the community to take ownership” of Pride.

Fisher wants to see the Pride Committee heal its longstanding rift with some portions of the business community over the next year. And Boissonneault says it will be his top priority next year as treasurer.

That will take substantial work. Pride has a strong relationship with some businesses — After Stonewall, The Lookout, Venus Envy, 1 in 10, mothertongue books, Capital Xtra — but not all. It was made worse this year when two Pride board members took Wilde’s to task for placing a large Happy Pride sign above posters promoting a private-sector party that competed with official Pride fundraising events. Wilde’s was a sponsor of the party.

Board members told Wilde’s co-owner Robert Giacobbi that they had no problem with his wishing people a happy Pride but objected to it accompanying the posters. It could confuse people and leave the impression the competing parties were actual Pride fundraisers, says Boissonneault in a later interview. The Toronto Pride organization has trademarked the word Pride to prevent just such uses, he says.

Boissonneault now says the discussion with Giacobbi could have been handled better, and he hopes to involve Wilde’s and other businesses in Pride this year.

Giacobbi notes that Wilde’s is a longstanding gay-owned business that flies the rainbow Pride flag year-round and pays the price for doing so by losing some straight customers. In 2004, Pride lost Wilde’s signage and the store withheld $400 it had collected for the organization to partially make up the signage costs. For the past two years, the Pride Committee has not given Wilde’s the opportunity to be part of the annual celebration, he says.

“If the Pride Committee is going to pick and choose who they are going to work with, then they can’t get upset when we partner with other people,” says Giacobbi. Wilde’s would have sold tickets to the Picnic festivities if it had been asked, he says.

Giacobbi says he would participate in a business advisory committee to Pride if they “listen to me. Gay businesses have experience.” He’d like to see Pride concentrate on what it does best and leave the private sector to concentrate on what they do best, with the private sector channeling some money to the Pride Committee to pay for the Parade and other expenses.

Fisher wants to see more fresh blood on the Pride Committee. This year’s team have been acknowledged elsewhere as the most professional in quite a number of years, and Fisher wants to see even more business-minded people volunteer. And he wants to see that balanced with a strong cross-section of the diversity found in the queer community, especially on Pride’s committees.

Longtime board member Marion Steele took on organizing this year’s parade and is pleased with the result.

“I’m really proud of everybody; the volunteers who worked on security were amazing. I strongly recommend co-ordinating a parade to everybody. It’s a crash course in event management.

Steele is leaving the committee this year and isn’t sure what’s going to fill her spare time now that the time demands of Pride are over.

“I think I’ll learn how to knit,” she laughs.