Small festivals decry the support given to the new Montreal comedy festival, organized by ComedieHa!

A group of around a hundred independent festivals deplores the rescue operation of millions of dollars in public funds having created at the last minute a Montreal comedy festival to replace the Juste pour laughs festival, canceled due to the bankruptcy of the group founded by Gilbert Rozon.

In a letter sent to Dutythe Group of Independent Regional Arts Festivals (REFRAIN) deplores the fact that the State is coming to the aid of one of the countless major Montreal festivals while small independent events are struggling.

“There was talk of financially supporting a new comedy festival to “save summer in Montreal”. But I don’t think summer was in danger in Montreal,” says Patrick Kearney, president of REFRAIN.

There is no shortage of major festivals in the metropolis, underlines the representative of small independent events. Holding one less festival this summer would not have been catastrophic for Montreal, according to him. These days, even before the start of the season, the Quartier des spectacles is already teeming with life, with the return of good weather.

Why fund a single organization when multiple festivals already established in the metropolis, which bring the city to life throughout the year, could be involved?

The three levels of government, Quebec, Ottawa and the City of Montreal, have nevertheless deemed it essential to financially support the ComediHa! group, which announced at the beginning of the month the holding of a new comedy festival. This event will take place from July 18 to 28, at the same time as the Just for Laughs festival was planned.

According to information collected by The duty, governments and the City consider it essential to maintain a laughter festival in Montreal, “capital of humor in North America”. Our sources indicate that public financial assistance for this last-minute event amounts to an amount between 3 and 4 million dollars.

ComediHa! indicated to Duty that the budget for the event is between 9 and 12 million dollars. The Quebec company specifies that funding will come from ticketing, own-source revenue, private sponsorships and public partnerships. The program will be revealed at a press conference at the beginning of June.

” Breathless “

“Why fund a single organization when multiple festivals already established in the metropolis, which bring the city to life throughout the year, could be involved? The latter are at the end of their tether and this spontaneous helping hand would certainly have been a great opportunity to help these festivals survive in this precarious reality,” indicates REFRAIN in its letter to the Duty.

There are limits to selling beer to finance a festival

Quebec’s 111 independent festivals find themselves in a difficult position, explains Patrick Kearney, who is also general director of the Santa Teresa festival in Sainte-Thérèse. These independent events play a leading role in their environment. Half of these report a decrease totaling $2 million in federal, provincial, regional and municipal aid, compared to last year, according to REFRAIN.

Nearly a quarter of these regional festivals (or 25 of them) were excluded this year from funding from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec. This public assistance is considered essential to maintaining their activities, since these events are offered free of charge to the public.

“There are limits to selling beer to finance a festival,” says Patrick Kearney. “We are constructive, we are not complainers, but for us, there is a line that has been crossed [avec le soutien public au nouveau festival de l’humour]. If we had been a big festival, we would have been listened to,” he adds.

The artists suffer

The lack of access to Quebec programs hurts street arts. “Without financial means, creation is no longer possible,” laments Louis-Philippe Lemay, co-founder and general director of the CHAPO International Buskers Festival, in Mascouche, in a video broadcast last week.

He and his colleague Léa Philippe, instigator and general director of the Montreal Street Arts Festival, are launching a “cry from the heart” for the financing of their events. Due to lack of funds, Léa Philippe pays a third of the regular fee to the artists. She plans to cut dates at her festival, which has enlivened the streets of Montreal for seven summers.

Only one provincial program, established last year after five years of mobilization, financially helps street arts. The Street Arts Festival was not included this year. At the time these lines were written, the office of the Minister of Culture and Communications, Mathieu Lacombe, had not been able to answer the questions of the Duty.

In Ottawa, it is indicated that the envelope for the Canada Arts Presentation Fund was increased by $31 million for two years in the 2024 budget. This measure aims to support festivals across the country, the majority of which are independent festivals.

The distribution of funds is imminent, and members of REFRAIN are eligible, we recall in the federal capital. These independent festivals are “essential in the region,” says a source familiar with the matter.

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