SummerWorks Festival Funding Reinstated by Heritage Canada
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SummerWorks Festival Funding Reinstated by Heritage Canada

The SummerWorks Festival learned today that it would once again be the recipient of Heritage Canada funding. We spoke with Summerwork's Artistic Producer Michael Rubenfeld about the good news.

The SummerWorks 2011 opening party. Photo by Stephanie Tonietto/SummerWorks.

Earlier today, the SummerWorks Festival announced that they’d been granted $90,000 in funding over two years—for this August’s upcoming festival, and next year’s as well—from Heritage Canada. It’s wonderful news, as the funding seems to indicate bridges have been mended between the influential multidisciplinary theatre and performing arts festival, and the federal government’s arts and culture funding body.

After last year’s funding was pulled with little explanation, many speculated it was due to the controversy over Homegrown, a play in the 2010 festival that was prematurely and mistakenly criticized as being supportive of terrorism.

“This will allow us to develop the festival and its culture in an organic, sustainable way, instead of having to scramble for funds,” a relieved Michael Rubenfeld, the artistic producer of the festival, told us over the phone. “Unlike last year, when we had to increase our fundraising capacity by over 400%.” That hastily organized effort, which kicked off immediately after Heritage Canada confirmed there would be no federal funding less than a month before the festival, was successful in replacing most of the funding, and so last year’s festival was able to proceed as planned. That huge emergency fundraising push would be unsustainable over the long term, however. The multi-year funding, explains Rubenfeld, means “[w]e can support our national series properly, for instance. We’ll continue to fundraise, of course, but organically. And we’ll be able to support our artists more, and our volunteers, with basics—like T-shirts.”

The festival is announcing the line-up for its 2012 music series this Saturday at a big launch party, as well as plans for their new live art series and more. “This money allows us to support all that programming,” says Rubenfeld, “instead of asking companies to cover their costs—to ‘pay to play.'”

That’s particularly important with regards to the national series, which brings work from across Canada to Toronto, giving those shows heightened exposure. For Victoria-based company Atomic Vaudeville and their musical Ride The Cyclone, which was just nominated today for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Touring Production (and last week for three Toronto Theatre Critics Awards), the SummerWorks exposure has been invaluable, for instance. Based on the exposure from their initial SummerWorks run, “they’ve been able to build a second national tour, a five-city tour starting in January 2013,” notes Rubenfeld: an example of how SummerWorks continues to benefit Canadians across the country.

While Rubenfeld is happy that Heritage Canada has had a change of heart, he’s quick to credit supporters of the festival, both financial and moral, for this favourable turn of events. “We really want to express our gratitude to everyone who supported the festival. All that sent a clear message about the value the SummerWorks Festival has for Canadians. And we’re grateful that the federal government agrees with them.”