Citing a laundry list of complaints, Chris Nerpin, who sits on Sudbury Summerfest's volunteer organizing board, characterized his group's relationship with city staff as “toxic” and said they have a “dictatorial style.”
This year's Sudbury Summerfest, featuring acts such as Wide Mouth Mason, Big Sugar and Loverboy, is still set to run at the city-owned Grace Hartman Amphitheatre in Bell Park on Aug. 21-23.
Earlier this month, a total of 17 not-for-profit organizations received a total of $536,886 in arts and culture operating grants from the city's development corporation. Among them was Sudbury Summerfest, which received $10,000.
But Nerpin said $3,186 was deducted from the grant to pay for a technical director the city contracted to oversee the Grace Hartman Amphitheatre during the 2013 festival.
“The Catch 22 is the city's subcontracted technical director is provided with the keys to the amphitheatre, so you do not access the amphitheatre without going through this person,” he said.
Sudbury Summerfest never paid the bill because organizers felt they didn't need the service, as the festival already had its own technical director, Nerpin said.
They met with city managers and Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli last winter in an attempt to resolve the issue, and had made some progress, but sadly Belli passed away in April.
“The communication we've got in regards to the invoice is pay the bill,” he said. “It really means we're powerless and we're the victims of the bureaucracy of the city.”
Even if $3,000 hadn't been deducted from the $10,000 grant, Sudbury Summerfest isn't receiving as much from the city as it did last year.
In 2013, the festival received a $15,000 grant and an $85,000 loan from the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC).
The loan was used as a bridge to allow the volunteer-run festival to book acts. Revenue from the event is then used to pay off the loan. Nerpin said the city indicated they'd rather provide a grant than a loan this year.
“It means that we need to ensure we generate the ticket sales and the revenues that we need,” Nerpin said. “We're not-for-profit. We don't have tons of resources.”
City manager of tourism and culture Meredith Armstrong said she can't discuss the situation regarding “any one organization” receiving arts and culture grants because “information about their own financial situation may not be public.”
However, she said the city does have the right to deduct money it's owed from grants allocated to organizations, whether or not the cheque is coming from the same department.
It's left up to the discretion of those evaluating grant applications whether or not the deduction is made, she said.
“All of it comes from the same source,” Armstrong said. “A cheque from the city needs to take into account all of the amounts owing.”
In an interview last month, the city's leisure services manager, Réal Carré, said the city could probably do more to make things easier for groups hosting events on city property.
He said the city is moving to prevent such misunderstandings in the future. It's doing this by publishing an extended checklist outlining things groups need to know before putting on major events on city property.