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Maple Ridge festival organizer wants accountability for grant money

While other music events struggle, a small first-year festival got $250K from BC government
The Music Talks festival in Maple Ridge drew small crowds, but got a huge $250,000 grant. (Brandon Tucker/The News)

As more music festivals around B.C. go quiet, the founder of Maple Ridge’s Caribbean Festival is calling for government accountability in its funding for such events.

Deddy Geese wants to know how a small, first-time festival held in Maple Ridge last September was given a quarter of a million dollars by the province last year, while other major events locally did not receive funds under the BC Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Fund.

The fund was offered last year to help events bounce back from COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

He and other local organizers were upset when the funding was first announced last year, and that has been compounded. The first-time local event in Maple Ridge was poorly attended, and now other major events are struggling.

The Rockin’ River Music Festival in Merritt recently announced it will not have a show in 2023.

Last month, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival passed a motion to dissolve its society after 45 years. After a public outcry, however, the society announced it will continue and is launching a fundraising campaign.

The 38th Vancouver International Jazz Festival has announced it will be back in 2023, but it will shrink.

The Squamish Constellation Festival is in trouble, and organizers say it needs new funds.

“That type of news concerns me,” said Geese.

The Caribbean festival is in a “holding pattern” for 2023.

It will happen on Aug. 5 and 6 this year, with some cuts. There will not be a kids’ zone with children’s performers and bouncy castles, as in past years.

Last year, 35 C heat melted his crowds. This year, all of the costs are rising, and Geese said he’s also dealing with the chronic labour shortage.

Given the current economic climate, Geese wants to know how the first-time Music Talks festival was able to secure $250,000 in provincial funds.

“That represents more money than the Caribbean Festival has received in 20 years,” said Geese.

His festival has benefited from provincial gaming grants, an average of about $11,000 per year.

It’s a big show, and at its height in 2015, the festival drew 15,000 to 18,000 people over two days.

The post-COVID recovery grants were supposed to cover a maximum of 20 per cent of an event’s total budget.

The Music Talks Music Festival in Memorial Peace Park, and its adjoining job fair exhibition in The ACT, were not well attended, he said.

Shairah Jauhari of Starlight Music was the person behind Music Talks. Crowds were a fraction of their projections. In a letter requesting sponsorship from local businesses, she said the 2022 event would feature up to 100 live music performances in the park, with up to 12,500 people in attendance.

When reporters from The News were at the festival on five different occasions through the two days, there was anywhere from about 35 to 50 attendees at any given time.

READ ALSO: Music Talks festival takes over Memorial Peace Park this weekend

Geese was frustrated to see the government give such a large sum of money to a small, first-time event, with no track record.

“I would like to find out where that money went. What happened to it? Why weren’t we aware of it?” said Geese. “I find it very disheartening these things can happen, and we’re working so hard to do as much as we can, with as little as we get.”

According to Jill Nessel, spokesperson at the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport, the purpose of the Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Grant was to support the safe resumption of events throughout the province. More than 680 events in 134 different communities received grants.

“Any fair, festival, or event that met the program’s broad and flexible guidelines was welcome to apply,” she said.

Three applications were put forward for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows and all three received funding. The City of Maple Ridge received $24,100 for its Glow Maple Ridge event, and Pitt Meadows Day received a $16,600 grant.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge festivals and events missed out on COVID recovery grants

Geese said he was not aware of the fund, and other event organizers in the city told him the same.

Cheryl Ashlie, who worked in MLA Doug Bing’s office and ran as a BC Liberal MLA candidate, said the onus is on MLA offices to make sure groups that could benefit from such grants are made aware of them.

Nessel said the government does audit some of the grant recipients, but that isn’t happening in the case of Music Talks.

“The event organizers for Music Talks Music Festival submitted a satisfactory final report within the required timeframe,” she said. “The ministry is evaluating which events from 2022 require further follow-up to determine if an audit is required and how to help event organizers plan effectively for future events.”

The News asked for details about the local applications for grants. Nessel said letters of support were a mandatory requirement of the recovery grant and could be provided by local destination marketing organizations, municipalities, First Nations, and/or other community partners.

Applications submitted by organizations were required to demonstrate local or regional support and community impact through both economic benefits and quality of life, as well as alignment with ministry and government priorities. She said the ministry is unable to share those applications or letters of support.

READ ALSO: B.C. Greens call on B.C. government to address ‘systemic’ healthcare workplace issues

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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