Overcoming some ignorance of the kinds of cultural events that are staged locally and despite disagreement over the type of events that are worthy of city support, Halifax council last week OKed expenditures of $160,000 in support of four events:
Halifax Pop Explosion will receive $10,000; an upcoming basketball tournament hosted by the Halifax Rainmen will be supported with $125,000; the annual New Year’s concert on the Grand Parade gets $15,000 and the province’s Democracy 250 agency will collect $10,000 to underwrite last fall’s concert at Grand Parade and a smaller celebratory event at the Dingle.
The money comes from the “Marketing Levy Special Events Reserve,” which is collected through a bed tax charged on hotel guests. Most cities in North America have similar taxes, and the money is used to support events that either directly bring tourists into hotels or indirectly broaden the tourism appeal of the area generally.
According to city guidelines, the MLSER funds “non-annual commercial, tourism and sporting events of national and international calibre,” or city-sponsored events.
As the New Year’s Eve concert is sponsored by the city, no councillor objects to it receiving funding. Some 20,000 people attend the event, with another 350,000 watching on TV.
Halifax Pop Explosion likewise receives unanimous council support, but only after HPX spent months lobbying and educating councillors about the event. To the surprise of Waye Mason, director of HPX, many council members sitting on the sub-committee that evaluates cultural spending hadn’t heard of HPX, which is 17 years old, is the second-largest annual music festival in Atlantic Canada and has an annual attendance of 16,000 people.
Councillor Dawn Sloane says the committee was confused, thinking HPX, the North End Street Festival and Go North! were all one big festival. But “Waye Mason straightened us out,” says Sloane.
“It’s just been a real struggle to get non-conventional culture recognized by the city,” says Mason.
Still, the work has paid off for HPX. Besides receiving the MLSER grant, the organization is recommended for the same “Hallmark” status given to the largest and most successful events in Halifax; HPX will henceforth qualify for funding from larger pots of money divvied up between such institutions as the Atlantic Jazz Festival, the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo and the Busker Festival.
Funding for the Rainmen Holiday Classic basketball tournament provokes some discussion. Councillor Gloria McCluskey first asks why the city was funding a for-profit organization. “Technically, the tournament is being run by Events Halifax,” replies city staffer Andrew Whittemore. Pressed by McCluskey, Whittemore says the tournament is an event of the Premier Basketball League, which the Rainmen joined for the upcoming season. Whittemore acknowledges that only two teams will be visiting Halifax and seems unclear which teams are coming---“one’s from Georgia,” he says. The three-team tournament will be held over four nights at SMU, with a total expected attendance of 6,000-8,000.But other councillors give praise to the Rainmen organization and to owner Andre Levingston, who is present for the discussion. McCluskey is the lone vote against the $125,000 allocation.
Giving money to Democracy 250 proves more problematic. Several councillors raise concerns that the $10.5 million provincial program has been used for political purposes---councillor Debbie Hum mentions barbeques hosted by politicians wearing “vote for me” aprons.
Democracy 250 has been mired in controversy. Two former premiers were paid $40,000 each as figureheads for the agency, which consisted in part of handing out promotional material made in China and Haiti. The Grand Parade “get out the vote” concert had uncertain results---a staff report doesn’t give attendance for the show and turnout for the October election was a record low.
Despite those concerns, council voted 13-9 to hand the money over to the province.