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Queer Arts Festival needs financial support from community

QAF moves 2016 opening date to June to eliminate conflict with Pride events

“People have the idea that we have a lot of money, but it’s a struggle,” says Shaira (SD) Holman, artistic director of Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival, seen here in front of the festival’s 2013 TransgressionNow poster. Credit: David P Ball

Organizers of Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival (QAF) are hoping the community will embrace a new fundraising initiative and a new date for the festival in 2016.

“We’re moving the festival date,” says Rachel Iwaasa, director of development for the annual multi-disciplinary arts festival. “It’s a big step to take but one our board has been urging us to do since 2008.”

Iwaasa says QAF will open one month earlier in 2016: at the end of June, rather than mid-July. The 2015 festival ran from July 23–Aug 7, which coincided with Vancouver Pride events.

“What we hear from the festival audience is that there’s so much queer happening during Pride that they can’t get to it all,” Iwaasa says.

“Moving the festival to the Stonewall date is a great way to anchor that heritage part of it all,” she adds, with a nod to the anniversary of the riots in New York that kicked off the gay liberation movement in the US.

Moving the festival date earlier in the summer also means QAF can be notified of its federal grant status sooner. “It’s moved us to a different funding cycle with Heritage Canada,” Iwaasa explains.

Until the Department of Canadian Heritage unexpectedly cut QAF’s grant with little explanation in 2013, the festival received 17 percent of its total budget from the federal government. (Heritage Canada quietly reinstated 75 percent of the grant after a public outcry.)

In 2014, QAF received $36,000 (a five percent increase in funding) from Canadian Heritage and, Iwaasa says, the grant increased again in 2015, though she couldn’t provide exact figures.

The BC Arts Council doubled its funding for the festival in 2014 as well, and made the funding stable, saying QAF sets the bar “very high on artistic achievement” and engages “a very healthy, broad demographic.”

The City of Vancouver increased its funding for the festival in 2014 too, but finding sufficient funds to produce an ambitious, multi-week queer arts festival is still a challenge, organizers say.

“It’s always been a bit of a lottery,” Iwaasa says. “We’re in a state of perpetual crisis.”

“People have the idea that we have a lot of money, but it’s a struggle,” agrees QAF artistic director Shaira (SD) Holman.

QAF runs on less than a quarter of the budget of festivals of comparable size, Holman says.

And most of QAF’s funding is not guaranteed, she adds.

As a loud and proud queer festival, QAF isn’t the “typical candidate for corporate support,” she continues. “We showcase experimental, cutting edge, outside-the-box work. . . . We’re so in your face.”

That’s why QAF organizers have decided to launch their own community fundraising initiative, starting with an event on Dec 4, 2015.

“Support from the community is really key to us in so many ways,” Iwaasa says.

“It’s one of the big ways we tell government and corporate funding bodies what the community priorities are,” she notes.

QAF board members are urging the community to support the festival’s fundraising efforts.

“Anything that you like and think is worthwhile is really worth supporting,” Janine Fuller says.

“It’s just such an unbelievably dynamic festival that’s always doing things ahead of the curve,” she says.

“People imagine that the organization must have a ton of money because it comes together,” she continues, “but they don’t have the kind of money other organizations have.”

QAF president Jeff Gibson says the festival is one of only about five such events in the world. Now, he says, the festival needs the community’s support.

Only five percent of the organization’s operating revenue is currently generated through festival ticket sales, he notes.

“When the festival was threatened [in 2013] we were really moved by how the community really came together,” Iwaasa recalls.

Now, she says, “it’s important people know it doesn’t have to be a crisis that brings them together in support.”

“Nobody likes to ask for money,” she admits. “The first year of change is always going to be scary, so we’re calling on our supporters for help with the transition.”

 “It’s a way lovers of the queer arts can feel some ownership of the festival,” she says.

(Editor’s note: This article was updated on Nov 16, 2015, to correctly identify Rachel Iwaasa as QAF’s director of development, and to clarify that QAF operates on less than one quarter of the budget enjoyed by festivals of similar size.)