Three years of no municipal funding from the Town of Sylvan Lake led to the demise of the Jazz at the Lake Festival, say organizers.
Meanwhile, a Town of Sylvan Lake official blames “significant budgetary pressures over the last two years” with inflation following the pandemic.
“We have been unable to provide any grant money in the community…It’s not like we gave money to anybody else,” said Monique Pummings, the town’s director of recreation, culture, tourism and economic development.
The festival had previously received $15,000 from the Town. But Pummings said all grants to community organizations were cut to balance the budget so that Sylvan Lake residents would not have to face an even higher tax hike than the 5.51 per cent increase set for 2023.
An announcement was made last week that the popular 20-year-old music festival, which brought in many Juno Award-winning artists, would be not be returning to Sylvan Lake.
This week, festival organizers stated: “On April 3rd we were made aware that for the third consecutive year the festival will receive no financial support from their ongoing grant applications to the Town of Sylvan Lake. With no critical grant support forthcoming from the Town, we are unable to launch the festival.”
This emailed statement was signed by festival founders Cheryl Fisher, Eric Allison and Matt Toonders.
They listed several other factors, including steeply rising operational and insurance costs, and increasing administrative requirements for permits and licensing from the Town of Sylvan Lake and provincial agencies.
The workload “has become time, labour and cost prohibitive… None of us are lawyers or professional grant writers which seem increasingly to be needed on even a small festival board like ours.”
Pummings said it’s “very unfortunate” that both sources of municipal grants — the Community Spirit program and Recreation, Culture and Tourism Grant program — had to be cut. But she said town officials were always ready to help festival organizers with grant applications as they have before.
Pummings added the Town was willing to work with the festival to reduce its costs again this year, as it did in 2022. By helping with the provision of the festival stage, lighting and technicians, “it’s not like the town offered no assistance,” she added.
Festival organizers says the event was re-launched in 2022, after a COVID-19-related hiatus, due to an “incredibly generous” donation from a Medicine Hat resident, a modest Travel Alberta grant, and some donations from businesses and philanthropic organizations.
But this was not enough for its ongoing survival.
“There is no music festival we know of that is able to be mounted without some percentage of its budget supported by its municipal government,” stated organizers, “especially when many events provided are free to the community and their families.”
They added that an assurance of ongoing support would be needed by January of each year to keep the festival going so invited artists would have time to apply for their own grants to subsidize travel costs.