The cash-strapped Ottawa-Gatineau Pride Committee has given itself a deadline of Apr 15 to line up support for this year’s platinum anniversary festival. If the target of $50,000 in sponsorships is not reached by then, the festival could be cancelled.
And Pride is telling creditors if they don’t accept reduced payment terms, the festival could go bankrupt.
To beat the Apr 15 deadline, board members need to make progress on a variety of funding issues.
“We have verbal [sponsorship] confirmations, but don’t have actual signed ones yet,” says Darren Fisher, Pride co-chair. Fisher says the 15 hopefuls are the “usual suspects” and include a few bars and beer companies.
Pride has also severely slashed administrative costs by closing their office, switching their internet server and recruiting volunteers to host the website. They now only maintain a home phone line.
Pride ran a deficit on the 2005 festival, but most of the financial troubles stemmed from earlier.
Figures obtained by Capital Xtra reveal that of Pride’s pre-2005 debt of $178,211, they owe $65,755 to the city. Pride also owes $50,000 on the loan guarantee that the Toronto Dominion Bank called in last summer, forcing city hall to pick up the cost. Pride has paid the Pride 2005 expenses owed to the city in full. But it still owes $15,755 in pre-2005 invoices from creditors that the 2002, 2003 and 2004 Pride boards contracted and defaulted payment on.
Last summer, board members lent $12,100 to Pride in advance of the 2005 festival. The final net deficit for Pride 2005 stood at $15,751, including $3,500 in accounts receivable. Fisher says that because of fundraising events such as the New Year’s Eve bash, the deficit has been reduced to $11,388, even though their GST refund claim was garnished by nearly $2,000 because the 2004 Pride committee neglected to pay payroll taxes.
Pride has offered an ultimatum to its individual and business creditors, although not to the city.
In a Dec 16, 2005 letter to creditors obtained by Capital Xtra, Pride treasurer Gordon Boissonneault asks them to accept a payment “of 25 cents on the dollar for outstanding debt incurred before 2005.” In exchange, Boissonneault offers a free “Supporter Of Pride” sponsorship package (a media launch invitation, website sponsorship recognition, on-site banner space, a thank-you page listing and permission to print “Supporter For Pride 2006” in advertising).
If creditors cannot accept this reduced payment, the letter states, “our financial situation will make it necessary for Pride Ottawa-Gatineau to begin bankruptcy proceedings.”
Fisher is optimistic that creditors will accept the offer.
“A lot of these creditors were from 2003 that were ignored in 2004,” he says. “In 2005, obviously we couldn’t pay them back. It’s still a touchy situation but, realistically, most of the creditors won’t be a hassle.”
But Lori Jean Hodge, a singer/songwriter/actor who performed for Pride in 2003, is unimpressed.
“I have responded, and it is a hassle. In contrast, I paid my musicians out of pocket, honouring my commitment to them for a job well done.
“I don’t think they thought it through,” Hodge says. “What the group did was lump everyone into the same category. My partnership with them was quite different from corporate sponsorship. Offering me a big sponsorship package has no value to me whatsoever.
“I also feel that the letter, in a subconscious way, holds us (the creditors) responsible for Pride having to claim bankruptcy if we don’t follow through with their plan,” Hodge says. “I was quite offended by that. The committee got themselves into this current predicament.”
Hodge added, however, that if Pride paid her, the issue would be put to bed.
“Then I would be open to re-establishing a new partnership,” Hodge says. “I do want Pride to succeed.”
Pride is still planning to pay the city back in full and has applied for a 2006 grant.
Pride is dogging city councillors with “Getting to Know Me,” a new advocacy and development campaign. Board members and volunteers are paired with city councillors to lobby them on the gay celebration’s needs.
“It’s to get them to know us, and us to know them,” says John Gazo, chair of planning for Pride and a member of the advocacy committee. “But the long-term objective is to push for more funding from city hall for more festivals.
“We’re not the only ones who are finding it difficult to fund and stage our events,” adds Gazo. “Festivals throughout the region are facing financially constrained funding.”
Fisher says most local festivals find themselves in the awkward position of negotiating yearly with city hall for grants with debt hanging over their heads. The committee is also working with the Festival Network, whose mandate is to broach the tough subject of funding festivals.
“The system is entrenched,” says Fisher. “Pride alone is not going to be able to change the system. We need the community to push the councillors and say that the system needs to be changed for all festivals.”
Gazo notes that Pride is also applying to both Heritage Canada and the Trillium Foundation, possibly for the first time in the organization’s history.
And to cut costs, the Pride committee is also collaborating with Event Central, the new city office touted as the one-stop shop for festivals. Although it is still too soon to see if Event Central will save Pride any time or effort, it is saving the festival money.
“They’ve been very helpful,” Gazo says. “When I’ve met with them, they’ve been completely willing to negotiate with us to try and reduce our costs as much as possible. They can better say, ‘Well, you don’t need X number of police.'”
The Pride committee has also realized that they must change the lack of support from the queer community last year.
“There was too much negative energy when we started,” Fisher says. “We spent most of the beginning of the year trying just to figure out what happened, to stop the bleeding and make inroads again. The community felt very bruised and battered.”
So the new board is reaching out to the local queer community, asking for help and involvement.
“We still need you!” Fisher says. “We need your time, we need your creativity, we need your contacts, we need your money. We need people to be involved and participate and make Pride what they really, really want.
“When the community is actually taking ownership over Pride, then we’re doing our job right and you know that Pride will function,” Fisher says. “Until that happens, it’s always going to be in trouble.”