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Vancouver Fringe Festival asks for community support to create ‘sustainable future’

Vancouver’s fringe arts scene is pleading for the public’s help to carry it beyond tough, post-pandemic times.

Duncan Watts-Grant, executive director of the Vancouver Fringe Theatre Society, says the organization has been forced to reduce the number of companies at its upcoming fringe festival by one third — and now it’s making an urgent call for donations so it doesn’t have to shrink further.

“What people don’t really know is that this period coming out of the pandemic has been even harder on arts organizations and presenters,” he said.

A perfect storm of consistently smaller audiences, government grants that are either equal to or less than pre-pandemic levels, and inflation are all contributing to the tough times, Watts-Grant says.

“Our revenue has gone down or stayed the same to where it was before the pandemic and our expenses – how much it takes to put on the festival – have gone up,” he said.

Watts-Grant says the Vancouver Fringe Festival was the second ever fringe festival to be established in Canada 40 years ago, but now he’s focused on how to make it sustainable for the coming decades.

With the goal of raising $80,000, Watts-Grant says anyone who cares about the festival or looks forward to attending it every year is encouraged to donate.

“We know we’re going ahead with our fortieth festival, but the real question is looking ahead to what comes after that,” he said. “Because, frankly… that’s uncertain.”

Since Canada’s first fringe festival took place in Edmonton 42 years ago, Watts-Grant says the uncurated events have been hosting dozens of unique artists, who are selected randomly.

“What that means is fringe festivals across North America have become places where artists can really test and try new things,” Watts-Grant said.

For example, Watts-Grant points towards the sitcom Kim’s Convenience, which he says got its start at a Toronto fringe festival.

“Fringe’s have long been places where artists are able to try things and break ground and then go on to start their careers,” he said.

But this year, Vancouver’s fringe will see 20 fewer companies participate than the previous year due to its precarious financial situation.

“While it was a tough decision, it was one that we made with the knowledge of wanting to create a long-term sustainable future for the festival to support artists,” he said.

The Vancouver Fringe Festival will take place in September for 11 days and is expected to draw more than 12,000 attendees to Granville Island.

With files from John Ackermann.

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