The organizers behind the Up Here urban art and emerging music festival had anticipated receiving less funding from the provincial government this year, but did not expect to see it cut entirely.
But, that’s exactly what happened, with their funding request coming back late last week with no dollars coming in from the province.
“We’ve gotten zero explanation other than the fund was oversubscribed,” We Live Up Here general manager Jaymie Lathem told Sudbury.com.
“With our track record and the large economic impact that we have within the north, and our progress of programming, and just the longevity and legacy of the murals we bring into this community, we really did not anticipate zero dollars.
“It’s just really disheartening to see the cuts continue to happen to a sector that really does humanize and bring people together and build community.”
Last year, the organization received $66,600 from the province for a festival netting their largest-ever turnout, with 12,953 people coming out to enjoy their cultural activities. Of attendees, approximately 28 per cent were from out of town.
The previous year’s provincial funding totalled $69,000, and was preceded by $24,167 in 2020, $48,895 in 2019, $50,000 in 2018 and $45,000 in 2016.
The organizing committee did not apply for provincial funding in either 2017 and their inaugural year of 2015.
The non-profit We Live Up Here organization estimates the festivities have carried an overall economic impact of more than $5 million since their inaugural event in 2015.
“I’m surprised and not surprised, because Doug Ford doesn’t have a great history of supporting the arts,” Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West told Sudbury.com on Monday, shortly after Up Here made public through social media their lack of provincial funding for this year’s events.
“That festival has always been successful, and it draws a lot of tourism and an economic echo that happens because of it, so I don't blame them for expecting some funding,” West said, adding that with festivities only weeks away, the provincial government’s announcement came at the last minute.
The 11th-hour announcement took the organization by surprise, Lathem said, noting that while they’d braced to see their funding dip a bit due to the province cutting its funding envelope from $50 million down to $19.5 million, they didn’t expect to see it eliminated entirely.
They found out about the lack of funding on Thursday, and quickly rejigged this year’s events.
Although they’d anticipated bringing the events back up to their pre-pandemic glory days, they’ve now found themselves having to scale things down, with remaining funding partners allowing them to proceed.
Rather than dueling stages, they’ve moved acts down to a single stage, cancelled a Friday show at Place des Arts, cut some art installations and made the “crushing” decision to cancel a performance by Latvian musician Elizabete Balčuz.
They’ve also suspended the creation of a new mural by Katie Green, and scaled down their planned Mystery Tour, in which ticket holders would have been driven to a secret location with a rented city bus for a mystery performance.
“So, we’re not all going down two kilometers to SNOLAB to see Geddy Lee this year, guys. Sorry,” an Up Here social media post read. Lathem clarified it was tongue-in-cheek, with the Rush frontman not, in fact, booked to perform ... although it’d be awesome if he were.
This year’s Mystery Tour will take place on Aug. 20, from 1-4:30 p.m., and consist of three surprise pop-up shows in three “equally surprising locations in and around downtown Sudbury.”
Despite the cuts, Latham clarified there are still plenty of things to enjoy during this year’s scaled-down festival, slated to take place Aug. 18-20. A full schedule of events and ticket information can be found by clicking here.
Meanwhile, Up Here organizers are encouraging their supporters to donate, volunteer, buy tickets and join them in advocating for provincial funding for future events by contacting Premier Doug Ford on Facebook, Twitter, or emailing [email protected].
It’s not just about Up Here, Lathem clarified, noting that other organizations will have also seen their provincial funding cut.
In addition to the province granting funds, Lathem said something as simple as moving up the deadline for funding, or multi-year funding, could help organizations better plan their finances.
For his part, West pledged advocacy at Queen’s Park.
“I’m going to be reaching out to them to find out how I can help,” he said, adding that with MPPs not sitting right now it’s difficult to hold the government to account, he’d at the very least advocate for future years’ funding.
Sudbury.com reached out to the province for comment, and received the following response after this story was originally published:
"Experience Ontario is a highly competitive program with no guarantee of funding. $52.51 million was requested by applicants from a program with a budget of $19.5 million. Unfortunately, not all applications could be supported, and we encourage applicants to explore all prospective support and partnership opportunities when planning their festivals and events. While unsuccessful in meeting program requirements this year, Up Here festival organizers have been notified that Ministry staff are available to assist them with preparing future applications when 2024 program guidelines are available later in the year."
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.