Last month, an article in the Georgia Straight caught my eye. It was an interview with Ian Case, who runs The Victoria Fringe Festival. They have been hit hard by cuts to the arts, to the tune of $42,500.
I emailed Ian and asked him if I could interview him, and he kindly agreed. Then I thought I’d also interview David Jordan, the ED of the Vancouver Fringe. Then I thought about Jeremy Banks, whom I met earlier this year, and who has spent his summer traveling to many of Canada’s Fringe’s this summer.
Welcome to Fringe Week at The Art of the Business.
Here is my interview with Ian Case.
RC: Tell me a bit about the history of the Fringe in Victoria.
IC: The Fringe started in Victoria 24 years ago. It was started by a group of folks who wanted to see more local production and to take advantage of the newly established trend in Fringes popping up across the country. The festival has been very successful and grown significantly over the years.
RC: What has been your involvement with the Fringe in Victoria?
IC: I attended the second year of the Fringe when I was at University and was hooked. Since them I’ve produced and directed shows that have appeared at the Fringe in Victoria. I was hired 7 years ago as the General Manager for Intrepid Theatre, the company that produces the festival. The company at the time had a budget of roughly $250,000. While I’ve been working with Janet Munsil the Artistic Director, the company budget has grown to over $800,000 per year and the Fringe has more than tripled in size.
RC: What was your background prior to the Fringe?
IC: I am a UVic grad with a specialization in Acting and an BFA in English. I had run a student newspaper while at College and went on to found a private tourism based publication in the Okanagan Valley. I was hired as the administrator for Theatre Inconnu in 1991 for their first Shakespeare Festival in Market Square. I stayed on as General Manager at Inconnu for 4 years then went on to become one of the co-founders and administrator for the Victoria Shakespeare Festival. In 1998, I founded my own company called Giggling Iguana Productions which produced three shows in the McPherson Playhouse then went on to produce over a decade of site-specific work at Craigdarroch Castle. Iguana continues to exist and I recently produced and directed The Importance of Being Earnest on the lawns of Craigdarroch Castle.
RC: What is the Fringe looking like this year? How many participants, how many shows, etc?
IC: The Fringe this year is looking really exciting. We’ve secured 7 full time venues and a record number of artist driven Bring Your Own Venues. We have over 60 companies involved this year and will present over 350 performances. The festival will be the largest Fringe we’ve ever produced and build on our massive increase in attendance last year of 40%. This year is bigger and better than ever!
RC: What was the impact of the first round of cuts in Aug last year?
IC: We tightened our belt a lot this year. We ended 2009 with a provincial government enforced deficit of $30,000 when we were denied Direct Access Gaming funding. We were able to reduce the size of Uno Fest and our presenting series, two of our other programs in order to make our budget balance in 2010 and to safeguard the Fringe which is our flagship event. We have taken on increased fundraising initiatives and worked on developing our donor base all of which has been quite successful.
RC: What is the impact of current cuts?
IC: Less funding will mean less art. It’s as simple as that. We run a very tight ship here. Our staff is already overworked, under-remunerated and smaller than a company doing as much work as we do during the year should be. The average full time working artists in BC earns in the $24,000 per year range which is ridiculous. The only place we can afford to cut, without impacting the quality of the work we present and the work we do in our community is to simply do less. Uno Fest will be reduced again in 2011 if we are unable to secure additional funding to support it. Our presenting series will likely be further impacted. In the past few years we’ve been able to present some of the best and most exciting touring work available from around the world. We will not be able to continue to do this and will scale back the kind of work we present and the number of presentations we put on. This will deny our region the opportunity to see some of the best work available from around the world and leave our community less culturally rich than it has been.
RC: How are you coping, and how will you cope in the future?
IC: We’re cutting and being very careful with our spending. In the future we’ll continue to seek new sources of funding and work on further developing our donors, sponsor and fundraising activities.
RC: Final words?
IC: There seems to be a clear disconnect between what we do as an active sector in our province and how the government sees us. Every other industry sector receives massive support through tax incentives, fees, subsidies and other support. We are having this support torn away. This support was already minuscule in size and yet we have been able to leverage into a vibrant and active arts and cultural scene in our province that outperformed every other sector in the economic downturn. Now that we’ve had the much needed support of our province taken away, it seems highly likely that we will start to lose companies, artists and a great deal of cultural vibrancy from our communities. Just like recreation centres and public swimming pools which are subsidized to make them accessible and affordable to the general public, arts and culture requires support and subsidy to make it’s activities available to the widest possible audience. These cuts will take away that possibility and leave our communities the poorer for it.
RC: Thanks, Ian!
In Wednesday’s Part 2 of the series, an interview with David Jordan, ED of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.