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Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival facing program cuts without financial help


One year after hosting an event with record attendance and sales, Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival (EIFTF) is asking for monthly donations from its fans to stay afloat long term. 

The organization on Monday launched a fundraising campaign called "Sustain Fringe," facing revenues that have been outpaced by expenses, as well as stagnant government funding. 

Without immediate support, organizers will have to consider cutting one third of programming in the 43rd festival happening Aug. 15-25, executive director Megan Dart said. 

"It really hurts to think about what that might mean," she told reporters, noting that what makes Fringe unique is the broad access it provides to performance art, partly for free, and pointing to the festival's growth over the years. 

"If we look at scaling our operations this year, we're looking at a long regrowth trajectory that will take us years to get back to pre-pandemic programming levels."

She said the organization does not yet know an exact shortfall. She called it "sizeable" and "ongoing." 

In addition to still recovering from the $3-million loss it incurred by cancelling 2020 during the pandemic, EIFTF says it has not seen an increase in funding from either municipal or provincial governments since before the pandemic. It is also expecting a 20-per cent reduction to its Canada Arts Presentation Fund allocation. 

Meanwhile, hard costs to build the site have almost doubled, insurance has increased 45 per cent, staffing costs have increased 42 per cent, and utilities have risen, too, Dart said. 

But a $5 monthly donation from each of its annual ticket buyers – 20,000 people, totalling more than $1 million over a year – would ensure the festival could maintain its current size and programming, according to the executive director. 

"I'm going to go home and dedicate $5 a month like they asked," longtime Fringer, director and playwright David Cheoros told CTV News Edmonton. 

"Everything from the city's most seasoned professionals to kids who are trying to get their first show off the ground. The Fringe has filled so many ecological niches in the city that any threat to it is huge." 

"Going out to get groceries is almost unaffordable, so I don't blame people for finding it hard to find the money to go out to the theatres. But I hope people realize what that means for the whole economy," added Alyson Dicey, the director of the Fringe's kids programming and a member of Girl Brain Sketch Comedy. 

"The arts are important for our education system, the arts are important for all the other artists that live here, and also the businesses around here, the restaurants and the shops that depend on our night scene, not to mention, the BFA acting program and the production programs at the University of Alberta that are pumping out talented performers and amazing artists."

According to Dart, the problem is not isolated to Edmonton, nor fringe theatre – despite Vancouver Fringe Festival cutting programming this year. She said artistic industries across Canada are facing the same problem. 

EIFTF is also seeking gifts, sponsorships, and volunteers. 

It is not considering increasing ticket prices, although festival goers may see an increase in the service charge which profits the festival. All ticket proceeds go to artists, under the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals' guidelines. 

The festival features about 1,600 artists each year. Last year, it counted 550,000 visits and $16 million in local economic impact. 

Alberta's minister of arts, culture and status of women says she plans to meet with festival organizers soon to discuss their financial challenges.

"I would encourage them to continue to apply through the programs that we have available," Tanya Fir told CTV News Edmonton on Monday. "They've received over $2.5 million from our government since 2019, mainly through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. And I encourage them to continue to apply for that grant funding."

Fir says she is also committed to pressing the federal government for funding for the arts.

Explore Edmonton, the city's tourism and marketing organization, told CTV News Edmonton in a written statement it supports the Fringe through dedicated campaigns to promote major city festivals. 

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti and Chelan Skulski Top Stories

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