Thursday, November 28, 2013

Toronto LGBT theatre's Rhubarb Festival inexplicably loses funding from the Harper government

After many years of support from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage for the annual Rhubarb Festival, which will celebrate its 35th year in February, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (which puts on the festival) received some bad news last month from the feds.

Buddies' application to the department's Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program had been rejected. No explanation was given, despite the fact the Rhubarb Festival has been approved in the past.

Buddies explains the situation further on its website:

"When we contacted the department to get some more information about why we suddenly did not fit the funding criteria, we were told in very generalized terms that we no longer meet the objectives of the Canadian Heritage program Building Communities through Arts and Heritage. The stated objective of this program is: “to engage citizens in their local communities through performing and visual arts, as well as through the expression, celebration, and preservation of local historical heritage.”

"This is not the first time that Canadian Heritage has withheld support from us. It happened once before. However, when this occurred, we received specific indications from the department on where our application fell short. What is troubling this time is that we have not been given any clear indication as to why we no longer meet their criteria. This has left us surprised and confused. Why do we no longer meet the program’s objective? We did not propose any significant shifts to the festival in our application. There has been no announced change in policy or priorities. The only source of new priorities that we can see at Canadian Heritage is the appointment of the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable Shelly Glover.

"Unfortunately, there is no appeal process. We have been encouraged to reapply in the future and we will. We hope that we will have the opportunity to work with Canadian Heritage again.

"However, we also believe that it is important for the arts community and the public to know when there are shifts in government policy affecting the arts in Canada. As a queer organization that promotes freedom of expression for communities and perspectives that are often silenced, it is our duty to inform them. It becomes even more important for us to speak out when these shifts occur without any explanation. We believe that it is reasonable for citizens to expect a level of transparency from the Department of Canadian Heritage."

"...Rest assured, the Rhubarb Festival will still happen this upcoming February and we remain committed to providing space for communities to engage with boundary-pushing performance and ideas."

I am a supporter of Buddies in Bad Times theatre and a regular patron. I've also attended the Rhubarb Festival in the past and fully support its work at "building communities through arts". The festival has met the "needs of Canadians" in our community.

Why, Minister Glover, have you treated our important local theatre so poorly and without explanation?

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